If you’re a woman working in business you’ve likely encountered this problem at some point in your career. I’ve encountered it, most of my female clients have experienced it and whenever I bring it up to other women, they’re quick to confirm that it has happened to them in the past. So, get out of your head, into your heart and let’s talk about your voice being heard.
Hey, it’s Julie and welcome to the Corporate Yogi podcast. If you are a woman in business, you’ve likely run into this problem at some point in your career. I’ve definitely encountered it, most of my female clients have experienced it and whenever I bring it up to other women, they’re quick to chime in and share their experience of how it happened to them in the past. The numbers don’t lie, the research shows that women do get interrupted more often, they are given less credit for their ideas and in some instances even penalized for speaking out more. Now I will pause her for a second for some good old gender disclaimers, I will be using somewhat dated categories of men, as compared to women, and I acknowledge that this is by no means inclusive and doesn’t account for people who identify as non-binary. And I think it’s important to reveal that any of my coaching work done with individuals who identify as non-binary, and have indicated this to me is a very small percentage, I’d say less than 1% of the clients that I’ve had over the years. So I don’t feel that is an accurate enough representation to understand their experience, or to identify that they would identify more with the experience of women, over me in this scenario, so to be safe, I’m not going to address non-binary individuals in this episode, however if you have any insights or perspectives here that would help to educate me, then I would LOVE to hear them. Oh and the other thing to mention off the top is that this scenario has exclusively been claimed by women. To date I’ve never had a man explain that they’ve experienced this scenario, although I can’t say that it hasn’t happened to a man, or specifically a man of colour. And lastly, this isn’t an episode for women, I think we all have something to learn from this frequent situation, and I do recognize that my community, clients and podcast listeners are blended about 50/50%, and I think we’ll all benefit here. So here’s the scenario. There’s a bunch of people in a meeting, sitting around a boardroom table having an open discussion about a topic and one of the women chimes in to share her idea for a new product we could be launching, and her suggestion falls on deaf ears. After she finishes speaking, there’s silence in the room, no one pipes in to confirm or deny or even acknowledge the idea, just radio silence. So the conversation moves forward, and approximately 5 minutes later (you know where I’m heading with this) one of the men chime in and share the exact same product launch idea that was shared by the woman and everyone in the room chimes in to acknowledge and support his idea. The women is understandably frustrated and wonders if she is invisible? Did no one hear her? She just shared the exact same idea and no one rushed in to support her. So what the heck is going on here? Well, if I had a dollar for every time someone shared this experience with me, I would be a very rich woman. I hear this all the time.
So, here’s a look at what you’re going to learn today.
So, get out of your head, into your heart and let’s dive right in, shall we?
So what gives? What is happening to this woman in the meeting? Why is she not being seen or heard? Why are others leveraging her ideas to great fanfare? This is a very real thing and very common. It really feels as though every woman has an experience like this that she can share with me. And to be honest, even though I’ve never heard a male client bring this scenario to me before, I am sure there are some men, especially men of colour who have experienced their ideas being ignored or even rejected in a group meeting. And then gender and race aside, I also hear this complaint from introverts attending meetings. They don’t feel like their ideas are taken seriously, or aren’t welcome, or they quite frankly can’t even find an opening in the conversation to share their ideas. So I did kick off this conversation with the context of women, but let’s open up this scenario to anyone who feels like their voice and their ideas are being ignored in a group setting, or worse yet, their ideas are even being appropriated by someone else in the meeting later on. Well, there are a couple of things causing this scenario. The first one is that there could be an unconscious bias going on with this meeting dynamic, and people don’t “expect” you to have good ideas, or don’t value your ideas, for whatever reason. Let’s face it, as much as we don’t want it to be true, we often get pigeon-holed in our workplaces. People put us into a certain category and then it’s hard to ever break out of that mold when we grow or want people to see us differently. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. We all hold unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and they can be very damaging if we allow them to remain unconscious. When we consider unconscious bias, it’s really something that happens outside of our control. We can’t impact it at all, and quite frankly the person holding the bias likely can’t even control it, bc they don’t even know they’re doing it. This is why it’s so important for companies to educate about unconscious bias and encourage people to explore what their biases are and commit to doing things differently. But what in this situation can we actually control. Well, one thing you can impact in this situation is your personal brand and HOW you show up. Personal brand is more of a long-term fix, to shift the way people see you and for them to recognize who you are and what your career aspirations are. It is very important for us all to do, but it isn’t a silver bullet and won’t help immediately. One thing you can do that will have an impact right away is to ask yourself, how confident am I being when I present my ideas. Am I just casually mentioning them and hoping people will recognize them, or am I pitching them with confidence and clarity that will invite people to really consider them. One very damaging behaviour I watch female clients do is Uptalk. This is defined in Tara Mohr’s book, Playing Big. She outlines a number of things women do to undermine themselves at work. And I think it might be beneficial enough to do a dedicated episode about this topic specifically bc I think we could all learn a lot from it. But Uptalk is when you raise your pitch at the end of a sentence. When you ask a question, your pitch gets higher at the end of yes/no questions. When women use uptalk, their statements sound questioning and tentative, and this is where they start to lose credibility in a group setting. And the Research that has been done on uptalk done by women clearly demonstrates that listeners think the person using Uptalk is not sure if what they are saying is relevant, or even valuable to the discussion at hand. There’s a build in apprehension in HOW they are saying what they are saying, and that apprehension may lead to other people not really listening to what we say and definitely not taking it seriously. There’s also commonly a sing-song tone used by women and that makes them come across as less authoritative. So, as we start to unravel this situation we see that some of it us bias that lives outside of our control, and some of it lives within us and we can have a control over it.
So let’s talk about the women of the Obama administration and find out what they did to make sure they were being seen and heard. And I’ll take any opportunity to talk about either of the Obamas, especially in the context of leadership, bc I think they demonstrate such great examples of powerful, yet humble leadership. And they ALSO have such an admirable relationship with a true balance of power. Michelle’s infamous catchphrase, “when they go low, we go high” could definitely serve us well in the corporate world. I think we have a lot to learn from both of them. A couple of years ago I read Michelle’s biography and my mind was blown by how candid she really was about their life and also their struggles in life, on the campaign trail and in their marriage. I loved Barrack’s book too, although it was long…. And reliving those years he was in office and putting all the pieces together behind his administration was pretty incredible. And I believe that he has promised Part 2 of his biography to be published too. So Barack in particular does identify himself as a feminist, as does Justin, our prime minister in Canada. And President Obama’s administration was the most diverse in history bc any of the appointments in his executive were to women and people of colour. When he first took office, two thirds of his top aides were men, and women complained that they struggled to be present in important policy meetings, and when they were present, their ideas weren’t accepted in the same way and they were even sometimes ignored. So they adopted a brilliant tool called “amplification”. Here’s how it works. When a woman made a key point, other women would jump in to repeat the point and also immediately recognize and give credit to its author. This way, it forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution, bc it was being emphasized and mentioned twice, and it also denied them the opportunity to bring up the idea later on and claim it as their own. The women claimed that the strategy paid off and began calling more often on women and junior aides. By his second term, women finally gained parity with the men in Obama’s inner circle.
If Obama’s staff can use this technique in the male dominated political landscape, then we definitely use it too in the corporate world.
So here’s a couple things I will leave you with. If this episode struck a chord with you and you feel like you’re not being heard on some level, then this is your invitation to take action and start a dialogue. Sharing this episode is a great conversation starter. Start by having a conversation with others in your office who you suspect might be experiencing the same situation as you are. This is a great chance to use my favourite Madeleine Albright quote, there is a special place in hell for women that don’t help other women.
If you notice this happening in a meeting, definitely call it out. Start using the Amplification technique right away and see what kind of impact it has. You don’t have to have a formal discussion about it before you start using it, you don’t need an invitation, just dive right in and I guarantee that people will start picking up what you put down. Especially anyone who has been marginalized in the past, I guarantee they’ll pick up on in and join right in.
And for those of you who listened to this episode and really have never experienced this scenario, you don’t ever feel as though you’ve been marginalized in a meeting, ignored or even had your ideas stolen, then I have a special invitation for you. This is your opportunity to become an Ally, to leverage your power and your privilege to help others out. And this can be in a formal capacity, with an employee resource group you join, or it can be more of an informal capacity where you dive in and use your voice in real-life scenarios. Bottom line, now that you know this problem exists, you can’t unsee it. It’s time for you to become part of the solution.
OK it’s time to wrap up this episode on making sure your voice is being heard.
There is definitely a call to action in here for everyone. If you’ve had the boardroom scenario happen to you, regardless of being a woman or not, then you know how frustrating this can be, and you have the amplification tool at your disposal. Name what you’re seeing to other and take action to change it. Sharing this episode with someone is a great place to start a conversation and open up a dialogue of what you’ve experienced. If you…. shook your heard when you listened to this scenario and you can’t believe that it really happens to people, then this is your invitation to be an ally and start to advocate for colleagues who aren’t being seen or heard. Start by sincerely asking the question, has this scenario ever happened to you? I think one of the pitfalls for allies is that they have a hard time accepting that things like this actually happen, or at least this is what I have witnessed with some of my white male clients – bc they would never in a million years be disrespectful to a woman, or a member of the bipoc community (black, indigenous or people of colour) that makes it hard for them to truly realize or accept that there is a problem. But as we have discussions and raise our consciousness they start to see that yes – there is a problem, a massive gap, and as an ally they need to take action and be part of the solution.
So there’s a lot in here today for you to think about and lots of action to take. Please don’t keep this episode to yourself, start a dialogue with someone who can relate or someone who really needs to hear it.
Thanks for tuning in and I look forward to seeing you next Tuesday for another podcast episode and remember, that any fear or resistance you hold deep inside of you, is simply your greatness in disguise.