By Mel Robbins
Have you been in this situation?
You’re sitting in a business meeting with an innovative idea bubbling up inside of you. It could save your company money or advance that project your team is working on. But as good as your idea is, you never bring it up.
Or you do speak up, and you’re quickly interrupted, so you shrink back into your seat and pull your idea back down with you.
If you’re a woman nodding yes, you are not alone. Research finds that in mixed-gender meetings, men tend to dominate 75% of the conversation.
And why wouldn’t they? From a very early age, males from around the world are taught, consciously or not, that their role is to take risks. Females, on the other hand, learn from as early as six years old that they are vulnerable, need protection, and should be seen and not heard.
But you know what happens when women shut down and don’t share?
That’s right. Valuable perspectives never get shared. That affects a company’s profits, potential for growth, and overall performance.
It’s time to change that.
In my Audible Originals™ Audiobook, Work It Out, I share how your patterns of behavior at work are related to the way you do life in general. Instead of asking, What’s wrong with me? when it comes to your struggles, the question you need to ask yourself is, What happened to me? Often we find that very early messaging or strategies we used to get attention as children are the very ones that backfire on us today.
Through five very personal coaching sessions with women looking to move into their next work chapters, we get to the root of what drives their struggles. You may be surprised that what lies beneath self-doubt, lack of boundaries, and indecision has little to do with work and everything to do with what came before.
But back to our meeting. Why is it important you speak up and share that idea? Because first, your idea matters. And who knows? It could be the idea that changes the way your company operates and then business quadruples and hundreds more people are hired and you just changed the world.
Second and perhaps more importantly, even if your idea is dribble, you made yourself visible.
After all the progress women have made in the corporate world in the past two decades, and with all the right ways women are operating to get ahead, the gender pay gap is still real. Women, on average, earn .78 less on the dollar than men for the same job. And no surprise that women of color make even less.
But there IS good news and I want every woman on the planet to know what it is. Research from Catalyst found that there is one strategy that can increase the salary for a woman.
Ladies, you have to stop making yourselves invisible at work. Please – with a capital P – make damn sure your achievements are being seen by those who sign paychecks and do the promoting.
I offer lots of coaching around this in Work It Out, but one place you can make sure you’re in plain sight is through your presence in company meetings.
And listen. I know it’s hard to speak up when you’re not used to doing it. I know it’s hard to be a confident presence when your voice is the only female one in the room. And it’s okay to be scared. But please. Don’t let your fear stop you.
You have a voice and you have ideas and they deserve to be heard, my friend.
So the next time you’re in a business meeting, these are the 6 steps I want you to take:
#1 Sit in the center. No more hiding at the end of the conference table or in a corner. Sit with your team leaders or whoever is running the meeting. This is the most obvious way to make yourself visible, but it also makes it easier to hear what’s being discussed and to participate in the conversation.
#2 Instead of taking notes, take note. Stop transcribing every word of the meeting and then sharing your notes with everyone else on the team. Unless your job is to take notes, pay attention and jot down bullet points. If you want to elaborate on those bullets after the meeting, go for it. But during the meeting, you should be head up and ready to contribute.
#3 Speak up. Even if all you do is agree with somebody else, insert and assert. Set a goal to speak up at least once at every meeting and when you do, set your volume loud enough so everyone can hear you.
#4 Watch what you say and how you say it. Author Pat Heim has studied gender culture in the workplace for decades and her research found that when women speak up in meetings, they end their sentences with disclaimers like, right? In this way, their sentences sound more like questions, which to a man sounds like a need for approval. Instead, practice on your own time asserting yourself in a way that sounds confident. And if speaking up freaks you out, please take a public speaking course or join a Toastmasters group to develop your confidence.
#5 Check your body language. The way you enter a room and sit in the meeting says you’re either there to contribute or you’d rather disappear into the upholstery. Sit up tall, roll your shoulders back, keep both feet solidly on the floor, and make direct eye contact with whomever is speaking.
#6 Finish what you have to say. When conversations between men and women are studied, data finds that men tend to cut women off a third of the time. If you’re speaking and someone jumps in, keep the floor. Continue sharing your idea without stopping or ask the interrupter to let you finish.
Remember, you train people how to treat you and the way you take up space tells others how valuable you are. You have a place at the table; it’s your time to take it. Not just for you, but for all women everywhere.
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