I like to think of myself as a take-charge kind of gal. I don’t wait for things to happen – I make ’em happen. I believe success is up to me especially if I control what I can control like my qualifications, competency and confidence. I kick butt and take names.
But on occasion I’m distracted from my kick-butt-name-taking efforts when I see a headline like this, “Sexism in the workplace is worse than you thought.”
That’s how a USA Today article described the findings of last year’s LeanIn.Org and McKinsey report titled “Women in the Workplace.” The article highlighted key findings in the study, which concluded that women were less likely to be promoted than men. A clear-cut case of sexism in the workplace if you look at these responses:
- Women who participated in the study said they were more likely to be ignored at meetings with 67% of women saying they were “able to participate meaningfully” compared to 74% of men.
- The women also said they were less likely to get challenging assignments compared to their male counterparts.
- When it came to big decisions, women said they were less likely to be consulted for input. Only 56% of the women who participated said they were asked to share their thoughts in those situations compared to 64% of men.
The president of LeanIn.org commented on the study saying it, “clearly shows that women face an uneven playing field.”
That’s one way to look at it, but that’s not the way I see it.
Here’s what I think: If you want to combat sexism in the workplace start by improving your communication skills.
The way I see it, this survey has very little to do with gender and everything to do with how you communicate at work.
I know that’s not a popular sentiment, but would you rather believe the world is out to get you and that your best efforts will always be second to the men in your office, or would you rather take control of the situation? Here’s my advice, stop playing the victim and start talking. I know some of this is easier said that done, but I also know it’s possible because as a sports broadcaster I talk for a living in the most male-dominated, testosterone-driven environment you can think of – professional locker rooms. You might assume I deal with more sexism in the workplace than most, but what I’ve learned is that my ability to communicate effectively in that environment evens the playing field for me. Here’s how I approach it:
Do you feel ignored at meetings? Speak up.
Chaotic is the best word to describe the scene inside an NFL locker room (or on the field) after the game. Post-game interviews are rarely conducted in an orderly fashion and it’s not unusual for me to be one of 15 or more media members waiting to hear from a specific player. We all have questions, and if I want mine to be heard, I’ve got to be prepared, persistent and occasionally loud. If I stopped trying every time my question was “stepped on” (as in, someone else started talking while I was already talking) or talked over, I wouldn’t have lasted very long in the business. I’ve learned the value and the importance of speaking up.
I suspect meetings at your office are less chaotic and more orderly that post-game interviews, but you can apply the same approach.
- Be prepared. Know your stuff and have something of value to contribute.
- Be persistent. Keep looking for the opening to contribute to the conversation and don’t get discouraged if your get stepped on.
- Be loud (if needed.) There’s probably no need to shout, but understand that if you really want to be heard sometimes you’re going to have to be assertive, forceful and louder than usual. Are people going to stop and take notice when you do? Probably and that’s the point and it’s why you need to be prepared for when you get your chance.
Not getting challenging assignments? Talk to your manager, highlight your successes.
Every Monday during the football season I schedule time to be interrupted. Yep, you read that right. I know my manager likes to talk about the outcome of the Seahawks game every Monday morning so I make sure my schedule allows for it.
What does this have to do with getting challenging assignments? Because I want to encourage ongoing dialogue with the person most responsible for giving me opportunities to advance my career. I can’t just talk to him during my yearly performance review and assume he knows what I’m thinking the rest of the year. Those Monday conversations start with football but ultimately give me an audience to talk about anything I want to bring up. It’s a chance for me to say something like, “Not only am I feeling good about the Seahawks win, but the fact that the show I’m working on turned out better than expected.”
My manager has a lot on his plate, most do. It’s up to me to stay on his radar. Building relationships with managers is just as important as building relationships with colleagues. It starts with your willingness to communicate. Make the most of the conversations you’re already having. For example, when a manager or key influencer asks, “How are you today?” Instead of saying, “Great! How are you?” or any other token throw-away line, respond with a success statement like this: “I’m doing really well after finishing my latest project ahead of schedule. The client just emailed to say they’re very happy with the results. I’m looking forward to getting started on the next one.” Being more strategic and thoughtful with your response to a simple question allows you to stay on the radar and position yourself as someone who’s ready for the next challenging assignment.
Feeling left out of big decisions? Initiate conversations with your colleagues before your opinion counts.
It’s easy to blame sexism in the workplace as a reason colleagues don’t seek your opinion when making big decisions, but what have you done to make yourself a good conversationalist? In other words, why would colleagues want to talk to you in the first place?
Time spent working hard is important, but so is taking time to cultivate relationships with colleagues. Allow time for small talk during the day. I know it doesn’t seem productive, but here’s what happens:
Becoming a good conversationalist leads people to talk to you, know you and trust your opinions. Click To Tweet They’ll willingly strike up a conversation with you. They’ll get to know you, respect your opinions and perspective and they’ll be more likely to ask for your opinions on big decisions because not only do they trust you, they’re already talking to you on a regular basis.
When I need feedback on a project, I go to the colleagues I talk to the most. It’s not sexism. It’s utilizing the relationships that are already in place.
Does sexism in the workplace exist? Yes, but don’t let that be an excuse. You control more than you think including your willingness to communicate effectively and become a good conversationalist.
Are there other things that can be done to combat sexism in the workplace? Sure, but my communication skills are something I can control. Isn’t that what we should be looking at? It’s a small solution to a bigger problem, but it sure feels good to know that I can take practical steps every day to put myself in a position to be heard and identify my next biggest career opportunity.
If you’re looking for practical ways to improve your communication skills or become a good conversationalist at work, sign up for communication tips and sports conversation starters delivered right to your inbox. Sports is a great way to connect with millions of people across the United States and right in your office.
Jen Mueller, America’s Expert Talker, serves as the sideline radio reporter for the Seattle Seahawks and as a member of the Seattle Mariners television broadcast. She founded Talk Sporty to Me in 2009 and advocates using sports conversations as a tool to build business relationships and become a good conversationalist at work. Hire Jen for a different twist on business communication. Jen@TalkSportytoMe.com