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Women: Start Working Out Loud
As women, we don’t always feel encouraged to share our contributions at work. Confident women are sometimes seen as less likable, and some women are uncomfortable taking credit for projects and sharing their past successes because they fear backlash (though self-promoting can be a key to opening career opportunities). I believe this shows the importance of women developing a strong voice so they can “work out loud.”
From my perspective, “working out loud” can provide women with two specific benefits: First, it connects the dots so others more clearly see how their contributions create tangible, business results. Secondly, it can bolster their own confidence, which in turn can help make it easier to work out loud.
As a coach, I’ve observed that even seasoned and experienced women sometimes need a bit of encouragement to work out loud. So, I’ve worked to help them understand the value of relying upon colleagues for support. I’ve also provided tips on having more of a voice in the workplace and encouraged them to simply observe when they admire how another woman performs in a professional environment.
Coaching has helped me develop a few ways you can become more comfortable when speaking up in the workplace. Let’s take a closer look at what it truly means to work out loud and how you can get started:
Do it together.
You don’t have to feel alone in the workplace. Enroll other women to work out loud — together. Let’s look at two scenarios that exemplify this.
One notable example of women working out loud together comes from the Obama administration. According to The Washington Post, when President Obama first took office, the majority of his top aides were men. Women felt they had to "elbow their way into important meetings," and, once they were in, their voices were, at times, still ignored. So, the women banded together to create a meeting strategy they coined "amplification." When a woman shared her idea, another woman would repeat it and give her female colleague credit. President Obama noticed this and began calling on women more often.
I believe another example of working out loud together comes from Girl Scout Alice Paul Tapper, who noticed that the boys in her class often raised their hands enthusiastically, while the girls held back. Alice and her troop created the "Raise Your Hand" patch to help build girls’ confidence. To earn the patch, a scout must raise her hand and encourage three or more girls to do the same.
So, find an ally in the office who will hold you accountable for speaking up in meetings. My clients have found this technique useful, not only because they are being held accountable, but also because they can get feedback afterward on how they did.
Speaking up in meetings is another way to work out loud. Here’s a tip: Speak earlier in meetings, and share opinions so people notice and recognize your voice. I believe it can be helpful to make it a point to be one of the first three people to speak in a meeting. Don’t be concerned if you don’t yet have an opinion. Remember, there are many different ways to speak up. For instance, you can connect the ideas of others, ask a question or build on someone else’s thought. The key is to speak with confidence, have a point of view and tie your comments to business outcomes.
Sometimes, even when a woman does try to speak up in a meeting, she’s overshadowed or interrupted. To ensure you’re heard, try to be on the meeting's agenda. Tell your boss that you want to give an update on a department priority or a project you’re leading. Even if they can only squeeze in five minutes for you, it gives you a specific time frame to encourage others to listen. To supplement those precious minutes (as well as another work-out-loud strategy), send key points out to the attendees ahead of time. That gets people thinking about you and how your work affects business strategies.
Undoubtedly, you have colleagues who are natural self-promoters. Observe them. Even if you think they’re a bit over the top, likely they engage in at least a couple of behaviors that are effective and will work for you. Observe the words they use, how they act, where they sit in meetings and who they spend time with. Then, pick one or two behaviors to practice for a week. Really commit to practicing, and pay attention to the results. If practicing feels uncomfortable, keep doing it. I believe this can be a sign that you’re on the right track because working out loud can feel uncomfortable at first. Recently I suggested to a rather timid client that she notice other people’s behaviors as a strategy to adopt behaviors that are more attention-getting. And now, she no longer cloaks her opinions as questions.
I believe these working-out-loud strategies can help women showcase their contributions and bolster their confidence. Make a commitment today to do it together. Speak up with greater intention, and emulate effective behaviors of others.