Leaning In is Half The Equation
The amount of times in my career that I have said "I'm sorry, can I finish what I was saying," is astronomical. Some of this was by accident. I had a former co-worker who constantly interrupted everyone because she wanted to get her ideas out, some of this, however, was intentional.
Similar to most women in 2013 I jumped on the Sheryl Sandberg train and bought my copy of Lean In. A book that encouraged women to come to the table and have their voices heard. I took this to heart, I leaned into my career and tried to be heard. What I learned, was this was only half the battle. I will admit, I am not a Sheryl Sandberg hater. There are some out there who dislike her. Controversial or not, I believe any woman writing a book that inspires another woman in her career is a good thing. If this worked for you then amazing! Leaning In didn't work for me.
So, I began thinking of other tactics to have my voice heard in meetings. Asking people to let me finish, raising my hand for difficult projects I knew I could accomplish and simply ensuring I was offered a seat at the table. Throughout this, I learned some tactics that worked well for me. I realize these won't work for everyone, but if I can inspire just a few women in their career, then I'm going to call this a success.
I want to note that this post is not reflective of my current workplace. I now am working with a team of supportive co-workers, who want my voice to be heard and value what I bring to the table. I love my team. My team is supportive, understanding and great individuals who inspire me daily to do my best. They do not tolerate anyone who tries to silence me or any of the other women on my team. I value this more than anything else.
Find Your Advocate
No person is an island. You are never in this alone. Guaranteed if you are experiencing an issue then others around you are also or are witnesses to this. This is why it is essential to find an advocate or form alliances with others. Yes, this sounds very office politics but trust me on this one. I used to go into meetings where a co-worker would put his hand in my face — not cool bro. Finally, another co-worker mentioned how much this bothered him and asked me if it would be okay for him to speak up when this happened. He didn't want to overstep but felt this was wrong. The next time this happened in the meeting, he said: "I'm sorry, I don't think Kate was finished." The facepalms stopped. I've done this for others in turn. Speaking up when someone is interrupted or interjecting that I'd like to hear so-and-so opinion on something. Having an advocate is like having a cheerleader. They are someone who wants you to succeed and will help you on the path to success.
I hate being called bossy. Growing up I was told I was bossy. I told others what to do, and liked to organize events. These are skills that make me good at my job now. I firmly believe that we should never refer to young women as bossy. This almost never gets applied to our male counterparts. So go ahead, be "bossy," speak up for yourself and interject when the time is right. Sometimes you need to take the reins to get things accomplished. I've found the more I take charge, direct and speak up the better I've done.
See Something, Say Something
If you live in Toronto, you will have seen those 'see something say something ads' at some point in your life. This applies to the workplace. See something? Say something! I made a vow early in my career that if I saw something I felt was wrong, I would speak out. Speaking out doesn't necessarily have to embarrass the individual either. Some people don't know they are in the wrong. Sometimes just pulling someone aside after a meeting and saying I didn't like that you did X during this meeting, could we work on changing that can make a world of difference.
Ask for Help
Similar to finding your advocate never be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes help is in the form of a coworker other times it's a friend who has been through a similar experience. Sharing our experiences helps us all learn. This is one of the reasons I like conferences such as Venture Out or digital communities such as TechLadies. They bring together like-minded people to share in knowledge and bring new understanding. In addition to that, I will also go through my network and figure out who needs the most help and approach them. People can be afraid to ask, be proactive.
Finding what works for you is essential. I think the first part to success is just showing up. Being a part of a team and working through challenges. These strategies might not work in your workplace. Figure out what does and then share that knowledge.