“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”
~ Malcolm S. Forbes ~
Client Ellen Asks: I’m a woman in a leadership role, and I have a question about perceptions. It seems that women are judged differently than men for the exact same actions. Where a man might be seen as authoritative, a woman acting the same way might be seen as bossy. How do ensure that I am projecting the image I desire as a female business leader?
Coach Joel Answers: I’ve often written about the importance of proactively shaping the perceptions others have of you. This is a key strategy to standing out, getting credit for your work and, ultimately, getting ahead.
But what if you’re a woman?
Do any of these comments sound familiar?
- “I feel inferior to some of the men at my office, even though we have the same titles.”
- “Most of the meetings I go to have few women and I feel alone and intimidated.”
- “When I’m in meetings with men, what I say seems less important.”
- “When I speak up at the same time as a male colleague, my boss always wants to hear what he has to say first.”
- “When I bring up concerns about details, my male colleagues accuse me of ‘not seeing the big picture.’ So I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.”
I’ve heard these same concerns from a number of clients. These are smart, articulate, highly motivated women in leadership roles at blue chip companies. They feel their gender hinders their ability to shape their image. One woman summed up her frustration by telling me, “I feel like the deck is stacked against me. The rules for men are different. If a man speaks up or challenges someone, he viewed in positive terms as being aggressive or competitive. Yet if a woman does the same thing, she’s called a b—-.'”
Naturally, this isn’t the case with all women and work situations. But if you share some of these concerns or frustrations, here’s what I advise my clients:
Don’t feel guilty about being assertive.
There’s nothing disrespectful or “unfeminine” about being assertive and forcefully expressing your point of view. The best decisions are made when everyone contributes their ideas. You shortchange your company, your customers and yourself by remaining silent or intimidated by “what others will think.” Someone once said, “Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.” It’s time to stop apologizing.
What have you got to lose?
If you’re afraid to speak up, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen?” Chances are, you’ll find your fears or reservations aren’t justified and the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.
Is it a gender issue or a confidence issue?
When consulting with female clients in depth about this, we’ve often discovered that the real problem isn’t with “them,” it’s with “you.” They were using gender as an excuse. They tended not to speak up at all meetings, not just those with men. They realized they needed to develop a strategy to build their self-confidence. This might involve reading self-help books or attending an assertiveness training class.
Learn from successful role models or mentors.
Seek advice and inspiration from successful women in your organization. Watch them in action, use them as sounding boards, learn how they use or bend the so-called “rules” to get ahead.
Talk to your boss.
During your next performance review, tell him (or her) you want to work at being more assertive and more comfortable at speaking up in groups. Ask for his advice and seek out feedback following meetings: “How did I do?” “Did I come across as too aggressive or confrontational?” “What should I have done differently?”
But what if it really is a gender issue?
My advice is: you can’t change them (the men in your office), you can only change yourself. Pick your fights and avoid fueling their negative stereotypes. In other words, don’t be overly emotional, focus on facts and not personalities, etc. If you continue to be frustrated, look for work someplace else. “Don’t compromise yourself,” the legendary singer Janis Joplin once said. “You’re all you’ve got.”
Don’t let your gender be an excuse. Joel has successfully coached many women, and he can help you reach your full potential too. Click here to learn more about leadership coaching for women.
Talkback: Are you a woman in a leadership position? Have you found that you are perceived differently than the men in your company?
Image courtesy of Gurza / shutterstock.com
“It is within everyone’s grasp to be a CEO.”
~ Martha Stewart ~
Lindsey is frustrated. She’s been with her company for several years now and she feels stuck. She’s not assigned to work on her department’s high visibility projects. Her boss ignores her in staff meetings. She is beginning to lose her edge. She’s considering looking for another position, but the job market is a scary place right now. Is there a way she can turn the job she has into the job she wants?
Lindsey shares her dilemma with some women in other companies and learns that they have used business coaches to help them move ahead at work. She gets some recommendations and starts working with an executive coach of her own. After a couple of coaching sessions, she begins to operate with a brand new business plan.
• Become the CEO of You, Inc.
• Play the role
• Ask for feedback
1. Become the CEO of You, Inc. Before Lindsey can become a CEO, she needs to treat herself like one. This means setting short and long term goals and conducting periodic self-evaluations to see how she’s doing. Her first month’s goal is to get assigned to her department’s next high profile project. She begins by drafting a memo to her boss outlining her past accomplishments and skills she knows are relevant to the project.
Acting like a CEO also means creating her own personal brand, an executive presence that shows off her unique skills and her contributions to the company’s success. Lindsey wants to be seen as someone who is both assertive and creative. She starts coming to staff meetings with notes on at least one important contribution she can make to the discussion.
2. Play the role. Writing in Business Leader, Thomas Walken says: “Women managers in traditional male organizations learn the good ol’ boy rules, but rely on their own strengths to become leaders. Taking risks, curbing maternal over-responsibility, and developing flexibility and confidence prevent derailment on the way to top CEO positions.”
In other words, executive presence doesn’t just happen. It must be designed, rehearsed, and constantly cultivated. Lindsey’s coach, who specializes in helping women move ahead in the workplace, recommends that she write down her negative feelings and beliefs about her current job situation. She can then find ways to flip those feelings into positive statements. For example, “My boss ignores me in staff meetings” could become “My performance gives my boss reasons to trust me and recognize my contributions.” Internalizing these positive statements helps Lindsey feel more confident in meetings and interactions with top managers.
3. Ask for feedback. One of the best ways to find out how you’re doing is to ask. Women in business sometimes have a difficult time speaking up for themselves for fear of appearing too aggressive. Thus the perception others have of them doesn’t fit with their true value. Lindsey’s coach suggests that she track her progress by getting feedback from a number of sources. She asks friends and family how they perceive her. After staff meetings, she asks a trusted colleague to evaluate her performance. And she keeps a file of positive comments she receives from clients and co-workers.
Three months after she started working with her coach, Lindsey’s whole world has started to change. She sees herself and her job differently, and now her boss and others in positions of authority perceive her differently as well.
Business coaching for women works. Contact Joel today to discuss the possibilities or call him at 510-339-3201.
Talkback: Are you feeling overlooked or ignored at work? Having trouble speaking up for yourself? Have you tried some techniques that helped you get noticed? Share your story here.
Image courtesy of Moodboard / Fotolia.com
There is a great discrepancy between the percentage of women and minorities sitting in America’s board rooms and their percentage of the general population. Although there are likely several barriers to career success for women and minorities that have led to this lack of representation, the result is the same–increased challenges faced by women and minorities in the workplace. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working as a professional executive coach for many women and minorities. With the use of my PVI (perception, visibility and influence) model, they have been able to advance their careers further and faster than they had dreamed!
Recently, I wrote a blog post for Keith Ferrazzi, New York Times bestselling author, world-renowned speaker and relationship development expert. In that post, you’ll find three common challenges women and minorities face and strategies to overcome them. You’ll learn some of the ways you can apply the three key principles of the PVI model to improve how you are perceived at work, increase your organizational visibility, and become an influential force in your company, propelling your career forward and smashing that glass ceiling.
For more ways to increase your visibility at work, read my new book, Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.