A study by Harvard Business Review claims during the average business meeting, men do around 75% of the talking. If you’re a female who has ever participated in one of these meetings, you know the “why” behind this statistic isn’t necessarily cut and dry. There are probably more men in the room. Many of the men probably hold more senior positions. Beyond those obvious things, the reasons can get complicated and maybe even a little personal.
There are, however, steps we can take personally as females and company leaders to amplify our own voices as well as those of the women around us.
When it comes to many of these high-level meetings, they are part of a string of interactions we’re inundated with every day. There’s a good chance if they’re not the one leading the meeting, those walking in are doing so without much preparation, intending to coast through this meeting on their way to the next one on their calendar.
When you take time to prepare, read any and all materials sent out beforehand, and research any background on the issue at hand, you suddenly become one of the more informed people in the room. It gives you time to think about points you want to make, questions you want to ask, or positions you want to take on an issue. Preparation helps to overcome a myriad of obstacles that occur within our own heads during these meetings: it boosts our confidence, and it relieves some of the pressure to think on our feet.
Women often hesitate to speak up because they fear being perceived as bossy or aggressive. That’s a separate hurdle for a whole different blog post. However, a small hack that can make a big difference is asking questions to get yourself over the fear of speaking out.
“I believe the company should invest money in this initiative,” changed to, “Have we ever considered looking into investing money in this initiative?” suddenly feels a lot less scary to say. Don’t hear us say you should never boldly give your opinion; that’s not the case at all! The reality is, however, this perception is a huge hurdle for a lot of women, and it can take time and practice to overcome a this fear.
The worst-case scenario goes something like this: We say something in a meeting that sounds dumb and is completely wrong. Next, all of our coworkers leave that meeting, and whisper about how unintelligent we are behind our back for the rest of our careers. Truth be told, no matter what you say or how well you say it, your coworkers are going to go on with the remainder of their days and weeks, focused on their own bubbles, and not think anything else about you. The point? There’s nothing to lose. Take the risk, and speak up.
Make a Safe Space
Some of us are in a unique position as leaders to influence company cultures and foster individual career growth. If this is the case, you know personalities and dynamics better than anyone. Use your position to make sure women feel comfortable speaking out in meetings, amplify their voices, and ensure the feedback they get is encouraging and constructive.
It’s a difficult hurdle to overcome for more reasons than one, but if our voices, ideas, and opinions are going to be heard and implemented, we as professional women and leaders have to make a conscious effort to change the dynamic in these meetings one small step (and meeting) at a time.