There may be times that you feel drowned out and not heard. It may feel hard to land your points at an predominantly male table. Don’t waste your time pointing fingers or placing blame. You may, or may not, have an impact on what someone else is thinking, feeling or doing. However, you absolutely have a choice about the actions you take and the attitude you hold. Exercise your ability to constructively voice your opinion and stand firm in your convictions. Don’t sell yourself short and don’t sell yourself out. If you don’t have your ethics and integrity at the end of day, you don’t have much of anything.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” It’s true. Always strive to improve but don’t waste your time attempting to be someone else. Take the time to truly understand your core values – what makes you tick – and honour those values in the choices you make and the way you conduct yourself. When you are speaking from the heart you are most original, most authentic and therefore most compelling.
It truly takes a village, and you are not alone. Manage and utilise the resources available to you, including LinkedIn groups, professional associations, alumni groups, clubs, parent teacher associations, friends and neighbours. Find the common ground between you and others in your business, your family or your village. Make the time to invest in relationships and listen to others, regardless of their seniority. Spend time with people who boost your energy and resolve. Align with powerful women as you spot them and stay in touch with the rising stars – they often have great ideas.
If you don’t, who will? Don’t allow someone else to make you feel “less than.” Own your power. Create affirmations that you say and read daily to boost your confidence, remind you of your greatness and encourage you to do your best. Consciously practise positive self-talk by reminding yourself of what you have achieved at the end of each day. Everyone makes mistakes, it is what makes us human and how we learn. Forgive yourself for mistakes and move on.
Men often dominate the conversation. The solution to gain more airtime is not to become louder, more aggressive or belligerent. The solution is to find ways to add value, build relationships and create opportunities to speak outside of the meeting room. Then, enlist the support of a few trusted colleagues to bring you into the discussion. Also, be sure to communicate your aspirations at top level. Men often get promoted over women simply because women don’t express their interest in getting to the top. Don’t wait for someone to ask you.
Practise confident body language and commanding verbal style. Rehearse in the mirror before key meetings and convince yourself before trying it on others. Focus on slow and deep breathing to steady any nerves and get your voice into the room early in a meeting. Do not ignore opening banter of any meeting – remember first impressions are vital. Most importantly, avoid the temptation to mimic male behaviour – your womanhood is your standout feature.
Men tend to be data driven and often ignore other aspects when making decisions. Gather the data, and then trust your gut. People drive success – data doesn’t. Trust your instincts in any given situation and allow yourself the luxury of going with it. Don’t be afraid to use others to test your intuitive insights.
Do your homework on this. Determine how you rate as compared to top performers in your wider profession, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised. If you need additional skills or expertise, put plans in place to attain them. Make sure you have mentors and sponsors who are guiding you.
As a woman, you have the ability, the desire and the potential to contribute more and to make a real difference in the world. Remember, it begins and ends with you. You hold the power. Choose you and invest in yourself. Do not underestimate your virtues or overestimate your vices.
Until the dial moves significantly it is imperative that women support each other at the top table. Mindful of the two female members in Barack Obama’s top team who got their voices heard by relentlessly reinforcing each other’s voiced opinions, it is essential that female executives collaborate effectively and ensure that men have no opportunity to divide them. By working together women can ensure that their views and ideas are given appropriate weight.
Having an experienced coach working alongside you, who understands the challenges you are facing, can help you equip yourself for the thrills and spills of a leadership role in a male dominated environment. A great coach will help you to develop skills in all the above areas; as a trusted advisor they are a vital secret weapon.