When it comes to issues women face, we still seem to be many years away from reaching gender equality. I mean, is this really 2014? Yes, women still struggle in meetings with speaking up, and it’s interesting to find out what research reveals that men think of their female co-workers who sit beside them at the table.
Specific Struggles of Women in Meetings
What exactly are the struggles of women? Many females report finding it more difficult to speak out during meetings than in other business situations, according to a recent study summarized by the Harvard Business Review.
In that post, the researchers wrote that “some [women] say their voices are ignored or drowned out.” Who is drowning them? It would simplify the issue to say it is only men. In reality, there are many parts to the situation. It is likely that the seriousness of the business scenario, in which the managers sit and evaluate their employees based on their words and actions, play a substantial role.
Perhaps the women in the study also felt intimidated by their male counterparts and that is why they did not speak up more? Certainly it was not that they had nothing to say. Personally, I have felt timid around male personalities that are stronger than my own and have remained silent during situations when I had every right – now that I look back on it – to speak up. But, it seemed safer to say nothing and go with the flow.
As well, let’s think about who the managers are of many businesses. Unfortunately, the US corporate world is not balanced in terms of gender; there are not equal numbers of males and females in leadership roles in companies in that country. Yes, the corporate gender gap still exists. While this issue may hold true in other countries too, I am only focusing on the US here as that’s the focus of the Harvard study.
With gender inequality in management, it stands to reason that women might struggle to find their voices during meetings because they see mainly men in their company’s top ranks. Plus, I wonder about the stereotype of corporations being primarily masculine territory. I mean – is this imagery still going strong today in 2014? I had hoped not but now with these survey results I have many doubts.
And, it also occurs to me that women may fear sounding rude if they do speak up in a meeting. They may think that doing so will reflect negatively on their work done back at their desks. Therefore, rather than risk jeopardizing their jobs, they say little during the meetings.
Suggestions for Women in Meetings
Okay ladies, so now that we realize women aren’t speaking up as much as men in meetings, what are ways to improve the situation? Well, I think it all starts in the mind. Bring to mind images of successfully speaking up during the discussions. When you imagine a positive result, then you are more likely to achieve it. On a related note, rather than worrying what the men sitting around you at the table are thinking, impress them with a confident voice. If you believe in yourself then other people are more likely to do so too.
In addition, take on the approach of “practice makes perfect.” If the meeting is on Wednesday, take an hour on Monday and some more time on Tuesday to practice talking about a few points that will be relevant at the table. Perhaps you have suggestions for the company’s latest marketing strategy or a question that is relevant to ask. Practice saying it now and then it will be easier to say it when the meeting day arrives.
Also, look over the agenda, if there is one, for what will be discussed at the meeting to get more comfortable with the subject matter. Often the agendas are handed out to each employee or send via a bulk email. Doing research on the topics before the discussion begins in the boardroom may be a great way to think of points to say when at the table that ignite conversation and increase the female role there.
What are additional ways to encourage women to speak up more during meetings?
©2014 Christy Birmingham