Women have come a long way to occupy important positions in various sectors and fields, but there is still the all-pervading misogyny that threatens to rattle their progress. Here are some ways to find your feet, be heard and make significant contributions in your area of expertise.
From boardrooms to conference halls to leadership meetings, women often feel sidelined, ignored or underrepresented at the workplace. But the trick is to not let it get in the way on your road to success. As a woman leader, how do you make your presence felt? How do you ensure that people know you for who you are? An aggressive stance is not always the best solution. The trick is to understand the challenges, and be prepared to take them on when the time comes, and that will go a long way in making your presence felt, and having not just a seat, but a say at the table.
Here are some things that you can do:
Often, women leaders find it a challenge to speak at meetings or even try to get a word in edgewise in a roomful of men. The reasons vary, from too many interruptions by male colleagues, to women not being confident about the point they are trying to make or just feeling uncomfortable while speaking up. If you are aware of a pattern that has become recurring then you need to tackle it.
Madeleine Albright said in ‘Firsts’, a project by Times, “If we are in a meeting we’re there for a reason. The bottom line is, if you are only there not speaking, you have created the impression that you’re not prepared to be there.”
This is where being assertive becomes important. “It is important to speak up, you are there on the table to just do that. When things start warming make sure to give your point of view and if anyone tries to cut in just hold your cool and say, ‘I am not done talking’. That is one way to get in your word,” Marianna Tessel of Senior Vice President and Chief Product Development Officer - Small Business and Self Employed Group at Intuit shared with YourStory in an interview earlier.
While working with men, women sometimes tend to labour under the misconception that they need to behave like them as well in order to be taken seriously. Not always, according to Nivruti Rai, GM, Intel India. As a woman in tech, she encourages women to be feminine while still being good at their job. Dress and carry yourself the way you want to and there is no harm in talking about clothes while you talk about tech.
“One of the basic challenges women in tech face, whether in India or the US, is that of perception. The assumption is that the well-dressed woman will show a few graphs and Excel sheets but won’t really know much about engineering. I have seen this happen in all the countries I have worked in. I have walked into meetings and rooms where I have been perceived as dumb because I have been smartly dressed, till the audience realised I am an analog engineer and can more than talk tech. That’s when they have realised they are wrong. I don’t believe I have to dress grey to show grey matter,” she said in an earlier interaction with YourStory.
Roopa Kudva of Omidyar Network, in an interview with YourStory, had pointed out that despite the tremendous strides that women have made in the workplace in the last two decades, one of the barriers that still holds them back is a lack of self-belief. According to her, women lack self-belief when it comes to doing top jobs and still hesitate to ask for a seat at the table.
Upasana Taku of MobiKwik shares her own experience to highlight the importance of self-confidence and belief. She says, “When I started out, nobody told me what direction to take. I had to make my own path. I believe that to venture on to a new beginning, what a person needs most is self-confidence. Sure, we may get inspired or influenced by the people we meet, or the stories we read, but nothing pushes you forward like the voice that comes from within, but, ultimately, if you've to create something new, you've to work bottom-up with a strong vision. I believe each one of us needs to probe within. Everybody is capable — it's the confidence that decides the path ahead."
Be a leader in the true sense. Mentor and support other younger women in the family and at the workplace. Lift up the women around you, speak for those who can’t, and support those who most need it. “Being the only woman in the room for so many years in Silicon Valley opened my eyes to issues around diversity, gender equality, and the value of bringing different viewpoints to the table. Now, in my own business, being a champion for gender and ethnic diversity is hugely important to me and impacts everything, from how I hire to who we partner with,” said American businesswoman Randi Zuckerberg in an interview.
So, while it is important to talk about the challenges and perceptions that hinder the growth of women leaders, solutions are what matters. So take charge and be the change - not for yourself but for others too.