During the run up to the Presidential elections, Hillary Clinton faced an unusual challenge with commentators pointing fingers at her shrill voice more than they did at her policies and experience. That tactic worked and took all the attention off the debate with Trump and brought the focus onto how Clinton sounds. Presidential elections aside, even in the conference room, women have to prove themselves at every stage. And after all these years of activism by feminist groups, it’s still not an easy task for women to assert themselves and be seen as colleagues with equal rights and skillsets in a room full of men. So what can women do to be taken seriously in a room full of men? Here are a few thoughts.
Start with believing in yourself. If you are in a room full of men, then there’s only one reason for that - you have something to offer to the team and organization. Believe in your skillset and experience, and speak with complete authority on your subject matter. Don’t lean too much or slouch, but do sit straight, keep the tone of your voice steady at all times and make a real contribution to the dialogue.
Don’t wait for someone to support you
Having a mentor can be a great thing for your career. They can guide you to when you make a mistake and help you prevent a career catastrophe. Or they could even help you become visible in a room full of peers. But the thing about having a mentor is that you don’t really need one. While the presence of a teacher or a mentor is a good thing to have, their absence can teach you just as much as you wade through the corporate corridors on your own.
Of course, this comes with its own riders, like you have to be interested in learning something new every day and improving yourself at every stage of the process. You would also be required to fight harder and stretch yourself to be seen by your peers. You would find disappointment and failure at times, but it is when you are at your lowest, you’d able to rise up to the challenge and achieve your own brand of success.
Create your own niche
Don’t wait for things to happen for you, start making them happen and create your niche in the workplace that only you know how to fill. Learn a new language, or acquire new skills in business or finance domain to make yourself irreplaceable for the team. Establish the differentiating factors that make you unique in a room full of men, and take absolute control and ownership of it. Your special skills and qualities, your knowledge, and a strong industry network can help you stand out of the crowd in front of your peers.
Follow your own heart
If everything else fails and there’s no respite in sight from being constantly relegated as second fiddle in a room full of men, it might be time to consider moving on. The world of business is changing very quickly, and there is no dearth of opportunities out there. All you need to do is be bold and take the plunge to follow your heart and chart your own path forward. There will be challenges, but in the end it’s the results that matter, not the challenges.
When you’ve put in the time and the effort in preparing a compelling business case at the office, you should get your due credit for doing so. You should have the freedom to present your view point regardless of who is in the room. Surprisingly, it is often seen and heard from many women that they don’t want to take up the challenge because they don’t wish to be the only ones in the room. But sometimes, all that is needed is to take that leap of faith and be the only woman in the room and bring some balance and parity for the female employees in the workplace.