Don’t just sit there: 9 tips to help women find their voice in meetings

Conference roomEarlier last week, I was in a meeting and was conscious of being the lone female voice, despite there being 2 other women around the table.

I knew that they shared similar perspectives to mine when I chatted with them earlier, yet neither of them spoke up to express those views.

Since then I have been consciously monitoring the meetings that I have participated in and have been struck by how reticent women are about speaking up, challenging the status quo, debating contentious issues…when there is a majority of men in the room.

Discussions revealed that the reluctance to speak up, to have a voice and be heard included:

  • It was tense, uncomfortable and didn’t want to make it worse
  • By the time I plucked up the courage, it had all been said
  • Didn’t feel confident to challenge
  • Didn’t feel able to disagree
  • Didn’t think that my ideas were as good as some of the others
  • Someone else said what I wanted to say
  • Easier to stay quiet and just let them get on with it
  • Know I should have spoken up, but others seem to have a bigger voice

Be Heard

When women (or men) don’t speak up they are doing themselves, their organisations, businesses, their personal brand, a great disservice by not contributing, sharing their knowledge, perspectives and opinions.

There is also a sense of frustration from being silent and knowing that you could have said something but didn’t.

How do find your voice?  9 tips that have worked for me and my clients:

1. If you are the host, create an environment where people feel welcome and able to share their ideas without intimidation or reprisal. For example, agreeing on ground rules or ways of working before commencing the meeting. One way of giving everyone a voice is to ask a simple general generic question and let everyone briefly respond.

2. Believe in yourself, your knowledge and expertise. You have earned your right to be at the table

3. Be prepared, read meeting notes, do your research, plan and write down your questions in advance. Make your points at the appropriate time

4. Try and say something at the beginning of the meeting. It might be as simple as adding to or agreeing with a comment. The earlier you do it , the more confidence you will have and it will help to prevent self-doubt and those gremlins taking over

5. Listen, and ask questions for clarification and to check for understanding. It shows that you are actively participating

6. Aim to say something at every meeting and consciously build on this

7. Disagreement and conflict are healthy in meetings. Build your confidence in sharing your opinions and perspectives by doing so with a group that you feel comfortable with. As your confidence increases extend to other groups and situations

8. If you have a point of view, perspective that is different, stand firm and stand your ground. Don’t be intimidated by the boss, the Chair or by those whom you perceive to have more knowledge, credibility, power…than you. Remember that you have earned your right to be at the table. Express that voice!

9. Join a speaking club. This was the most helpful thing that I did. Try Toastmasters or The Association of Speakers Club. Grasp the opportunity to speak up whenever you can – at the office, in meetings, events, seminars, conferences….

What has helped you to speak up in meetings? What tips can you share?

Images courtesy of Free Digital Images and Google Images


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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2 Responses to Don’t just sit there: 9 tips to help women find their voice in meetings

  1. Penny says:

    Thanks, Vera. I’ve just done a coaching session with a female client and gone through all the things you mentioned…but your list gives it very succinctly and clearly. My next action is to send her the link!!

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