A while back, I facilitated a series of meetings as a guest speaker. During the meetings with these senior executives, I noticed that many of the high level female executives of this well known company said NOTHING during the meetings. Meanwhile, their male counterparts engaged in vigorous and exciting discussions, and created stimulating debates on critical issues.
During one of the breaks, I spoke to one of the female executives about the deafening silence of ALL the female executives in that meeting. Her response was that the male executives were too loud and combative and would not allow them to get in a word. That remark was very surprising to me. I was co-facilitating most of the meetings, and the male executives were neither loud, nor were they remotely combative. However, to encourage the participation of the female executives, I starting calling on them directly to contribute to the discourse.
Their responses remained limited and brief even though I knew two of the women were Recognized and Erudite Subject Matter Experts on the issues! They were leaders that chose to be quiet instead of sharing their high level of confidence and exemplary leadership qualities with the group. It is worth noting that in a 2014 study on “Gender and perceptions of leadership effectiveness” by the American Psychological Association (APA), female professionals were frequently rated as more effective leaders than their male counterparts. (Click HERE for more information on the study). I do agree that some female leaders and other female professionals contribute powerfully in meetings, express themselves brilliantly and remain profoundly engaged during these discussions or other important corporate gatherings. But, vocal, engaged and high participation among women in meetings is not not the norm. Studies continue to show that women are silent in meetings, for the most part.
However, the GREAT news is that we can ALL be heard in meetings if we choose to be heard. You can be heard despite the interruptions, by just refusing to be quiet until you articulate your point clearly and factually. Speaking up in meetings for women can be enhanced if they shun their fears, and recognize that silence in such gatherings, and failure to contribute to discussions can create fatal ramifications to their career aspirations. Silence in meetings creates a perception of a disengaged, timid and ill prepared professional. In extreme cases, such negative perceptions about the “non verbal” professionals have cost them their careers. In an extensive and well researched article by Mary Davis Holt, which included the issue of silence of female professionals in meetings, she determined that:
“…women allow themselves to be interrupted, apologize repeatedly, and fail to back up opinions with evidence.”
There are different reasons ascribed as the rationale for this behavior by female professionals, but none, thus far have answered the question comprehensively with sturdy statistical evidence of significant improvement. I hope this article spurs the reader to be more assertive in meetings, complete their full remarks or comments and reject interruptions in the same manner as their ambitious male contemporaries typically do.
Timidity or Aggression can destroy a Professional woman’s career. Here are some suggestions below on how you can make an impact in meetings– while using concise and muscular statements to express your ideas and share your knowledge.
- Prepare thoroughly for your meetings. Get facts and evidence to support your statements. In addition, ALWAYS speak with confidence using strong and potent statements.
- If the meeting has loud contributors that drown out other voices, raise your voice a decibel or two higher without screaming, and make your point no matter how many times you get interrupted. Consistently complete your remarks at all meetings.
- It is normal to be challenged in meetings in many environments. It is for the most part a good thing to have vigorous respectful debate on issues, and examine different ideas. Challenges are exciting if you embrace the learning opportunities they present.
- Do not become a silent wallflower in meetings because you have made a mistake in your remarks or work, or injected an unsuitable or irrelevant comment etc. in the discussion. Address the mistake if required, and continue to be vocal and engaged in the meeting. If anyone wants to focus on your mistake that is their problem not yours. Focus on your role in the meeting.
- Lastly and most importantly, go early for meetings so that you can socialize a bit, and also relax with your colleagues before the meeting starts. You will feel better adjusted during the meeting if you have prior light exchanges with your colleagues. Pre-meeting exchanges will make your colleagues more relaxed with you during the meeting.
Women and men are socialized differently and even millennial professional women grapple with similar leadership challenges despite the progressive and modern era. (Click HERE for more information on Millennial challenges). However, no matter how you were socialized, remember, to be a recognized high performing female professional, you MUST be confident and visible. Self confidence includes the ability to speak your truth and express yourself in meetings and elsewhere without appearing confused, discouraged or angry based on external circumstances. (Click HERE for additional reading on unshakable confidence.)
Confidence also includes acknowledging our fear of failure in such meetings, and instead, transforming those concerns about speaking into a constructive reaction. For example, acknowledge that your contribution is needed for the growth and development of your organization, as a positive reason for you to speak in the meeting. (Click HERE for more information on making fear work for you.)
Be competent, be confident, be heard and recognized. What is the worst that can happen? You make a mistake, get challenged or have a better idea selected instead of yours? So what? You were hired because you were qualified for the role, now ENGAGE your colleagues in meetings and use your skills and abilities to advance the discussion and provide solutions to issues. Set your eyes like a flint towards your goals, and make a positive and meaningful impact in your organization. Never hesitate to share your ideas in any forum within your organization with confidence, vitality and proficiency. Be Unstoppable!!
I wish you well.