July 23, 2018
You work hard and you’re dedicated, but you can’t seem to move up in your company. Is something holding you back professionally? Is it sexism or unconscious gender bias?
Gender bias is a real thing. Women do face certain hurdles at work. They may have fewer higher-level bosses who are women. They sometimes get paid less for the same job or are overlooked for the better assignments. They also may not be promoted as quickly as men with similar backgrounds. But even if there’s bias in play, that’s rarely the only factor in why a woman doesn’t move ahead.
How often are we the engineers of our own difficulties? What can we change to improve our situations?
Four leadership experts offer observations on what many women could be doing at work—but aren’t. If they embraced these changes, the experts say, the women would look more professional, have more self-confidence, and have an increased value in the eyes of others.
Speak and look like you mean business. Women should pay attention more to their professional image, says Ellie Nieves, founder and president of Leadership Strategies for Women, LLC. They sometimes think that their work is separate from how they appear.
“They don’t pay as much attention to the package,” Nieves says. When talking to a group, the material you’re presenting is of course important. But people won’t listen to it if you’re not dressed properly, standing confidently, managing your voice, or controlling your gestures, she says. “Packaging ourselves to give the presentation is 55% of it,” Nieves says. “How you look needs to be paid attention to.”
Don’t use indirect or overly polite phrases. Too many times women say “thank you” or “sorry” when neither is needed. You may say, “I just wanted to let you know…” or “If you don’t mind…” This communicates that you’re asking permission, points out Alana Hill, engineer and certified project management professional at 2Hill Consulting Services. She adds that women also say “please” too much, which makes their statements less direct.
Sometimes women add “long justifications for what they feel and think,” which comes across as a lack of confidence, says Rose Jakubaszek, senior consultant at the Organization Effectiveness Group, LLC. “In leadership communications, everyone, men and women, needs to have a point, and they need to make it consistently, concisely, and confidently to be respected by those they work with and to get results.”
Believe you can make change happen, and act. “Nothing changes unless it changes,” Jakubaszek says. If you believe you deserve a raise but don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. Sometimes you need to be the one pushing for change, she says.
Some women don’t know what they should be doing to get to a higher income or status level, or, if they know, they don’t believe they can do it, says Fay Bordogna, principal of Management Training Resources. And they don’t ask for help in their goals, she adds.
Training can make a big difference. Nieves says that when she talks about being a better presenter, it may sound overwhelming. But it’s a matter of learning and practicing the skills involved. “You can coach yourself to present better,” she says.
“One of the things I recommend to my clients is to tape themselves,” Nieves adds. Videotaping is a good way to catch bad habits and start to work on correcting them.
Most of the changes above do require practice and courage—it may take a while to change speech patterns we’ve used for many years, for instance. But they are all within reach and worth the effort if we want to look and sound more confident, professional, and promotable.