Establishing a voice and being heard at work
Kim Walter completed her People Leadership Apprenticeship with WhiteHat in May 2020 and is now one of the Leaders of the Women's Network within the WhiteHat Community.
When speaking one to one, or in small groups I’d consider myself to be a confident person. However, put me in a bigger group setting, especially with people more senior, I begin to struggle. I shrink, I become an observer, measuring my response carefully out of fear of saying the wrong thing or embarrassing myself. Although this fear has somewhat eased over the years, finding the courage to speak up and to be heard, is admittedly still something I still fight with in the workplace.
Two years ago I joined the Pentland Creative Agency leadership team. Before my first “leadership meeting” I remember feeling nervous. I found myself around a table made up of mostly men. I was one of just two women and also the youngest in the room. I was intimidated, riddled with imposter syndrome and suddenly mute. Although I managed the odd nod, my words just couldn’t breakthrough. I remember contributing very little to that first meeting and leaving the room feeling regretful. I knew I had to contribute more next time if I wanted to be seen as a credible member of the team.
For me, there was a pivotal turning point. The question of what services we offered as an agency was on the table, it directly affected my team and I had a strong view on the subject so I spoke up. I remember making eye contact with my line manager as I spoke and after I’d finished he simply said... “I think you’re absolutely right” and continued with “To Kim's point…”
At that moment I remember feeling heard. I’d spoken with conviction and my assertiveness came across loud and clear. I’d said something worth drawing attention to and it gave me the confidence to speak up again and again until eventually, I felt very comfortable contributing in the meetings. I had earnt my seat at the table.
Here are some learnings I’ve made along the way that I hope will help you to establish and own your voice at work…
1. Sorry, not sorry.
They say sorry seems to be the hardest word, however we all too often open with it. “Sorry, I just want to ask…”, Even when the precursor isn’t ‘sorry’, we tend to use minimising language such as “This might be a silly question, but...”, “This might be irrelevant, but..”
My advice would be to avoid using minimising words like little, tiny, small, quick, just and moment. I’ve learnt that these words make us sound unconfident, uncertain and undermine our needs and the value of our contribution. It’s a tough habit to break, especially for women who have been shown in studies to apologise more than men, but once we do what we say will sound credible, more trustworthy, and when a situation arises when we do need to apologise it will land with authenticity.
Here’s some comedy gold from Amy Schumer to illustrate my point… https://vimeo.com/253499468
2. There may not be an 'I' in team, but there’s also not a ‘we’.
This is a little tip I learnt on my apprenticeship, say ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ and own your contribution. I struggled to break this habit at first, it felt arrogant and uncomfortable to speak about what ‘I’ did, especially as a manager who champions teamwork. ‘We’ is mistaken for sounding inclusive, when in fact it doesn’t credit anyone and deflects from our achievements and success.
Rather than saying ‘we’ to credit others, call out individual contributions, and certainly don’t forget your own. You cannot leave it to others to fly your flag for you.
3. Pay it forward.
Like my manager did for me in that leadership meeting, if you hear another woman say something in a meeting that adds value, make a point of repeating it. As well as showing your colleague that you’re present and that you’ve heard her, it will go a long way to boost her confidence. This act of kindness will likely be reciprocated in the future too. Win-win!
4. Be present.
Show up for yourself and be present. Being heard requires you to listen without distraction. Showing people you are engaged, listening and making eye contact, will ensure that when it’s your time to speak you will be listened to in return. It leads to trust and credibility.
Also, be present both mentally and physically. Establishing your voice is about showing up and being seen. At events, especially with senior leaders or clients, don’t hide at the back of the room. Make eye contact, be seen and show your interest with your presence. You never know who you might have the opportunity to meet, or maybe noticed by.
5. Be solution-focused.
Problems arise and things don’t always go to plan, no matter the situation, I’ve come to realise that there are plenty of people ready to moan and look backwards on what went wrong. So stand out and be the person to present a solution. Especially when speaking with clients or those more senior, being positive and sharing problem-solving ideas will get you noticed. Positivity breeds positivity, you’ll be seen as a problem solver and your voice will be heard.
I read recently that women “fight to maintain confidence”; this really struck a chord with me because I certainly have in my career and still do every day. The most valuable realisation I’ve had along the way though is that establishing your voice at work and being heard, has to start with how you perceive yourself.
If you want to learn more about this topic, join us for our next Inspiring Women Series, where we will discuss; How to progress, build a career and ensure that your voice is being heard with our special guest, Lisa Barret, VP Learning & Delivery at WhiteHat and previous Director of Analysis, Data-Driven Department and Culture Change at the Ministry of Justice UK.
Use the link here to sign up!