If you've ever sat through a company meeting, you probably noticed that most men do all the talking. Women are either standing around in an isolated area, perhaps sitting at the far corner of the room, but never front and center in the eye's path of fellow co-workers. It's rare to hear a woman at a meeting confidently stating her opinions or providing feedback, although men are sharing their ideas without much prompting.
Sound sexist? Maybe, but research shows that most women are intimidated to speak up at work, whether they're at meetings or dealing individually with their peers. Many times, it's because men are more naturally inclined to interrupt or display a strong enough personality to (inadvertently we hope) silence the women.
This traditional way of managing meetings or even interactions between the genders has serious repercussions. First, it denies women the opportunity to become active members of an organization. If their only contribution to a gathering - whether professional or otherwise - is their simple presence, then they're not really engaging. At a time when competition has reached a peak because of the involvement of a multi-generational workforce, speaking up at meetings is as important as living up to your job responsibilities. It reflects your work ethics and your drive to be part of the larger group.
A study by psychologist Victoria Brescoll found that most women in high positions stayed quiet in group settings because they were afraid of a backlash. Let's face it, opinionated men are perceived as intelligent and strong, but women who display that same confidence are labeled aggressive. In her study, Brescoll found that male executives who spoke more often than their female peers scored 10 percent higher in competence. Women who spoke more were punished with a score 14 percent lower than men by both genders. As I stated in a prior post, there are still expectations placed on how men and women should lead.
If you're like most women, you're probably thinking: So what do we do? Well, the first step is to embrace the fact that our opinions are as valuable as the men's. When we accept that what we have to say is as important as what our male coworkers' opinions, it will lay the foundation you need to start speaking up. The next step is to take the initiative and choose a seat at the table - right by the men. Then slowly, muster up the courage to speak your mind. Chances are, no one will really care about what you're whispering at the back of the room. And if you're interrupted, find a way to make your displeasure known. If not at the meeting, then maybe by coming up with suggestions to give everyone a fair say for the next meeting can help. Some suggest that a move as simple as picking up your hand or calmly stating you were not done speaking helps. Setting up a tag team with another team member to advocate for each other at a meeting may give you the support you need to express yourself more liberally. Practice what works for you.
Whichever strategy you choose is fine, but your final goal should be to build the courage to become a vocal member of your workplace.