Today’s workplace is a very different one from 40 years ago. Women now make up more than 55% of the workforce and are no longer relegated to support roles. However, women still struggle for equality and respect in the workplace. According to the Center for American Progress, women make up only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. They also hold just 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats.
Studies have shown women bring many advantages to companies. According to a 2007 report by Catalyst, more female officers on corporate boards led to “significantly higher financial performance”. Women also bring a much needed perspective and often a collaborative leadership style to the office. However, for a variety of reasons women are still struggling for parity in the workforce. There are a few things women can do to elevate their status and be seen as more credible and capable.
Learn to Interrupt
Women have a tendency to politely wait their turn to speak up. It’s a positive trait socially. However, in the workplace when you’re interacting with men you will wait a long time if you don’t take the floor. Jump in there and make your point.
Don’t Take it Personally
I recently attended a panel discussion on Women and Leadership at the Seattle World Trade Center. The panelists – Jon Bridge, Co-CEO, Ben Bridge Jeweler; Phyllis Campbell, Chairman, Pacific NW Region, JPMorgan Chase & Co; and Dan Levitan, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Maveron – shared their insights about what needs to be done to increase the number of women in executive leadership roles.
Phyllis Campbell shared her experience with being on corporate boards, often as the only woman. She said that many times she would share an idea and no one would acknowledge it, yet a few minutes later a man would share the same idea and everyone would recognize him for it. Rather than being upset Ms. Campbell said she would point out that she made the same point a few minutes earlier and then would continue contributing her ideas to the discussion. She advised women to not take being overlooked personally and to continue to offer their opinions and ideas.
Panelist Jon Bridge talked about his very successful wife, Bobbe Bridge, former Associate Justice of the Washington Supreme Court. He mentioned how stressed she would get about speaking engagements, doubting herself to the point of turning opportunities down. Yet, he said, she always did well.
Many women doubt themselves and because of that take fewer risks. I’ve heard that when looking for work men will apply for a job if they have just a few of the qualifications, while women will only apply if they have all of the qualifications, therefore taking themselves out of the running for many potential jobs.
Say yes to the next opportunity – job, promotion, speaking engagement or project – and trust you will succeed.
Avoid Insecure Body Language
In an effort to be encouraging and supportive many women nod or tilt their head when listening to someone. However, in the workplace excessive nodding can communicate a sense of inferiority. A head tilt immediately makes you appear submissive.
Avoid the girlish gestures of fussing and touching your clothes, jewelry and hair. Keep your hands on the table.
Speak with Confidence
There are a few things both men and women say that immediately destroy their credibility. Nix the word “just” as in “I just want to say this…” The word “just” in this situation communicates hesitancy and a lack of confidence.
Get rid of sentence enders such as, “Do you agree?” or “Isn’t that right?” And, drop qualifying language – “I’m not really sure about this but…” or “I’m not an expert but…”
Instead speak with confidence. Succinctly say what you have to say, and use phrases such as “In my experience…” “I’m confident that…” “I’m certain…”
Help Other Women
Ms. Campbell shared that when there was another female officer on the boards she served on they would support each other by chiming in if what the other said was ignored – “Mary just shared a really interesting point. I’d like to hear what she has to say.”
If you’re in a leadership role, man or woman, offer to mentor women. Encourage them to take risks and to believe in themselves. As we can see by the research, we all benefit when women are given leadership opportunities.