What Works for Women at Work: Answers to Common Questions-Influence
My contributions are barely acknowledged in meetings. My male peers seem to have no trouble getting people on board with their ideas, but my opinions just don’t seem to hold the same weight among my coworkers. How can I make my ideas stick?
Your challenge here is two-fold. On one hand, Prove-It-Again! bias is holding you back. Women’s contributions often aren’t valued as highly as those of their male counterparts, because descriptive bias paint women as less competent than men. Women therefore find themselves jumping through more hoops than their male counterparts to be respected. While people tend to trust that men are capable, women of equal experience and skill level have to prove their competence again and again … and again. Your colleagues feel more comfortable backing ideas presented by your male peers, because implicit biases diminish their confidence in your capabilities. It’s unfair, but you’ll need to work a little harder to be heard.
But simply raising your voice probably won’t help you. Prescriptive bias penalize assertive, ambitious women. Whereas a man might be seen as authoritative, you might be seen as too aggressive if you advocate forcefully for what you think is best. You’re in a double bind – forced to choose between speaking up and being scolded … and holding back and being overlooked. This is where the Tightrope is clearly at play.
Here’s how savvy, professional women have gained sway at the conference table:
- “When you’re trying to have influence in a situation, rather than saying, ‘I think we should do this,’ make it very clear that your idea benefits the group in some way. Make sure it doesn’t look like it’s about you, because it is a real turnoff when women look overly ambitious.”
- “Do some advance groundwork to get some people to buy into your idea before going into a meeting. Go around talking to people, explaining your idea in a one-on-one, non-threatening kind of way, such that when you raise it in a meeting, you have plants in the room, so to speak, who can speak up and support your idea.”
Prescriptive bias paints women as inherently communal and supportive and condemns women who seem to be out for themselves. Women who behave in gender-expected ways avoid the backlash faced by women who do not. So if you frame your ideas in group-oriented terms and have others back you up, your contributions will likely be better received than they would be if you were to simply present them as what you think would be best.
Have a question of your own? Then Ask the New Girls!