We all know the importance of speaking up when we witness injustice, bullying, or unfairness. We also know the importance of being a valued member of a work team and contributing our ideas and efforts. Both are easier said than done, the second especially difficult when a woman works in a male-dominated setting.
A certain type of sexism based on credibility seems to begin in the classroom. In grade school, little girls are anxious to raise their hands and participate. As they get into middle and high school, their classroom input starts to wane. Once in college, men tend to dominate classroom discussions. This trend continues in the work environment where men’s opinions are given more frequently and freely, and are heard more clearly.
Even when they don’t know what they are talking about, many men speak with certainty, even bravado. They are comfortable throwing out suggestions and opinions. They claim their rightful place as full members of the team, while women struggle to be accepted as credible. This type of sexist behavior from male colleagues can lead to a lack of self-confidence in women.
So, how can women compete effectively. How can you hold your own?
First of all, in every meeting, make an effort to speak and speak early. It may be a simple comment, like you agree with someone, or a correction of a fact, but say something so that you become part of the deliberation. The longer you wait to join the conversation, the harder it gets. Second, don’t be tentative. Never start a comment with a phrase like, “This may be wrong, but..,” or, “I don’t know if this will work, but…” Be assertive, but try not to be combative. Being combative will only make men more competitive. Humor can sometimes help, but being strident may work against you. Whining is never a good idea whether at a meeting or afterwards, as whining is often seen as “typically female” behavior.
Choosing your seat at the conference table or in the meeting room is important. Sitting closer to the boss or facilitator may help him or her notice you and your desire, and willingness, to speak. Keep in mind that you are in your position because you have expertise, and don’t be cowed by men who act like they know everything.
Speak your opinion and the facts clearly. What you say may be discounted at the moment. Keep speaking. Don’t give up. Don’t get in a shouting match with a colleague, and certainly don’t argue with the boss. It may be useful to send a fuller follow-up email detailing your suggestions, and make certain you are well prepared for the next meeting.
Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to be silenced or sidelined, and don’t settle for, condone, or encourage sexist behavior. Remember how hard you have worked to get where you are. With more experience you will find that your workplace courage, confidence, and determination will also increase. As you become more audible, you will find that others see you as more credible, and being credible is essential for career advancement.