07 Jan Being Seen and Heard
5 Tips to Help Women Navigate Being the Only Female Leader
BY: Amber Cabral
While women currently make up 47 percent of the workforce, an even smaller amount actually hold leadership positions. As a result, there are still occasions where she may be the only woman in the room. Being the only woman in the room can cause a female leader to feel pressure, to potentially not speak up when she should, or to align with the masculine perspectives that may not truly represent her own. Being a female leader presents an opportunity to offer insights and perspectives that may not otherwise be presented.
Consider putting the following tactics in your toolbox to help you stand confidently in your identity when you are one of the only women in the room.
1. FRAME CHALLENGING IDEAS AS QUESTIONS.
Generally, sharing ideas that may be different than others in the room can feel challenging. However, that feeling can be intensified when you are the only woman. Instead of pitching your idea, word it as a question. For example, instead of saying, “We need to make an effort to include our younger audience in future samples,” you can ask, “Have we looked at opportunities to include a more representative sample of our diverse audience?” This invites those in the room to have an opportunity to shift their own perspectives through stimulating dialogue.
2. SPEAK UP
There is a long line of research that says that, in the same careers, women tend to speak less than men. The assumption is that women are worried about being seen as incompetent or judged for being too aggressive. So, they silence themselves. Remember, you have a seat at the table. It is important that you lean in and use your voice to not only have your intelligent ideas heard, but to help create additional opportunities for female representation at work.
3. AVOID ACTING AS THE ADMIN.
While notetaking is a great habit, it is not your job. It is thoughtful of you to bring snacks to the meeting, but it is not your job. Be mindful of what might feel like thoughtful gestures becoming tasks you are “voluntold” to do. If you find that people always ask you to write on the whiteboard because you have nice handwriting, or if you can organize lunch for the meeting, make sure you invite others to share the load. A simple, “I actually wrote on the whiteboard in our last meeting. Perhaps you can do it this time, Robert,” will invite others to share the administrative tasks of working with others.
4. KNOW YOUR STUFF.
Whether intentional or not, women are often thought of as less intelligent or less capable in the workplace compared to their male counterparts. The best way to counter a stereotype is to be its opposite. Make sure that you are prepared and able to engage with both facts and ideas in the workplace, especially when you find that you are the only woman in the room. The goal here is not to surprise or outshine the other leaders in the room, but rather to make sure you are seen as committed in the same way your male partners are.
DRESS PROFESSIONALLY, BUT DO NOT IMITATE MALE COUNTERPARTS.
Blue, black, tan and grey seem to be the uniform for many workplaces. While it is important to dress in alignment with the culture of your organization, don’t try to be one of the boys. As a woman, you have a broad selection of attire and accessories to choose from. Don’t hesitate to add a touch of your personal style to your work wardrobe – whether that’s a nice broach, a splash of color in your blouse, or even a fun, but still professional, shoe. Be willing to bring your feminine flair and authenticity to the office. If you are new to a role or team, you may want to start small. As you establish your professional brand, you will find that you have more grace to bring color and creativity to your wardrobe. It will only enhance your workplace identity.
Being the ONLY, or even one of very FEW, women in a workplace is a position of great influence. Use the opportunity to bolster your confidence and display your skills. Remember, you worked hard to get where you are. Make sure that those you are working with are able to see the value you bring by employing some, or all, of these tactics to help you navigate the sometimes difficult waters of the work world.
Amber Cabral is an Inclusion and Equity Consultant at Cabral Co. Formerly a Diversity Strategist at Walmart Stores, Inc. Passionate about nurturing the next generation of decision-makers, she serves on the board for multiple non-profit organizations