In a New York Magazine piece, Madeleine Albright recounts the experience of walking into her first Security Council meeting as Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations. She was the only woman in a room with 14 men and thought “Okay, so I’ll just see who’s who, and if they like me, and what the mood of the room is.” But then she saw the sign in front of her that said “United States” and she realized that “If I don’t speak today, then the voice of the United States will not be heard.” Click here to read the full article.
Let’s talk about women in the workforce. Now most likely, you are not speaking for the entirety of the United States yet no matter, your voice and view is important. I take this anecdote with me into meetings, recognizing that if I do not speak, then my voice is not heard. And my voice, and your voice, deserves to be heard.
Often women, and yes I am stereotyping here, are more focused on being polite and being liked than speaking their voice. We do not want to be criticized or embarrassed. We do not want others to view us as incompetent or mediocre. Most horribly, we do not want to be thought of as a “bitch.” And given that, in the United States, CEO positions are still dominated by men and women continue to earn less than men, is it any wonder that we feel that we must “prove” our place in the workplace, continuously walking on “eggshells” so to speak.
So how can you throw caution and fear to the wind and express your voice?
- Do not apologize and do not make a statement into a question either with an inflection to your voice or a preface of “I may be wrong.” This conveys uncertainty. And while you may be uncertain in regards to how others will respond to your perspective, nonetheless have confidence in your view, as it is yours. Maybe with discussion and feedback, you change your thoughts yet that does not mean that your original thoughts were not valid.
- Recognize how labels can silence your voice. Are you worried about being called “bossy?” Well I like the quote “I am bossy because I am the boss.” So there! I’m not saying more.
- Use your people skills to your advantage. “Soft skills” (i.e. the ability to recognize and manage your own emotions and the emotions of those around you) have actually been shown to be two times more significant to effective leadership than technical skills. So, bring your A game when networking, recognizing the impact of decisions on others, motivating others, and establishing common ground.
- Do not be afraid to say “no.” Recognizing your limits, whether not having time or not having the skill set for a task, is actually positive. I always say that the person who never questions themselves or their skills is the person that I never want to work with. Now, this is not the same as minimizing your skill set or downplaying your strengths. Rather it is self-awareness, a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and openness to growth.
- Let it go. If your idea is questioned, contradicted, or criticized, do not take it personally. Recognize business is just business. The goal of expressing yourself is not to be “right,” as you will not be “right” every time. The goal of expressing yourself is to have your views heard and to provide input into decision-making.
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” – Coco Chanel