"Whiteboard" tips to overcome hurdles women face in the workplace
Updated: Aug 2
Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege to meet some remarkable women who have become dear friends. While participating in and leading women's leadership development, I’ve talked to these women about the shared hurdles we often face in the workplace. I have acquired some actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles. Above my desk at home, I have a whiteboard where I write the most effective tips and reminders that I’ve learned, and I’d like to share some of those with you.
Hurdle 1: Afraid of failing that leads to lack of confidence Don’t tie confidence to failures – or – fail, forward, fast! We're human. We will make mistakes and we will fail. Don't let these failures impact your confidence. Give yourself a set amount of time to be upset about a failure, then brush yourself off and get back to work. Also, be intentional about defining what you learned from the experience so you can apply it in the future. It took me a long time to learn this. Early in my career, I was very hard on myself if I made a mistake as I was a bit of a perfectionist. I remember not being able to sleep at night because I sent and important email to the executive leadership team with a type-o. One time, I gave a presentation about a very complicated product without being adequately prepared on the subject matter. It took me a while, but I finally forgave myself and now allow ample time to prepare or say "no" to presentations that are not in my area of expertise.
Hurdle 2: Difficulty making or sticking to decisions
Don’t attach guilt to decisions – or – have peace in the choices I make. I like to learn and prepare. Often, I'm the most prepared person in the room. (I actually read the pre-read materials for meeting.) Because of this preparation, because I've thought through my decisions, I'm not afraid to make them. I try not to revisit the decisions unless there's a compelling reason to do so. Once a decision is made, it's a waste of time to keep rethinking it if the care and thought has already been put into it. Like with anything, it took some practice for me to begin to trust my decisions. Having peace in the choices I make is so freeing. When my kids were young, we'd take a family vacation and I'd check into work several times a day. It was an interruption of the family time I had earned. So, I made the decision to stop doing that. I now tell my boss in advance that I'll be unavailable. I make sure others on my team are prepared and I don't allow myself to feel guilt in this choice.
Hurdle 3: Scared to speak up Use the 3 Ps when offering an alternative viewpoint. Study after study has shown that men speak significantly more in meetings than women do; that women are interrupted more than men; that even when women speak less, they are perceived to have spoken more; and that male execs who talk more than their peers are viewed to be more competent, while female execs are viewed as less competent.* As someone who has worked in a male-dominated industry for over 25 years, I've personally observed and experienced this behavior.
When I first heard the 3 P technique, I was skeptical. But I just decided to try it. I was in a website project meeting and there were various opinions on how to handle something. I used the 3 Ps and it worked! Here's the framework:
Point: “As I see it …”
Proof: “I base this on the fact that …”
Possibility: “I recommend that …”
For example: "As I see it, our customers would benefit from having access to some content prior to login on the website. I base this on the fact that our top competitors are doing this and our customers are asking for it. I recommend that we move forward and have Sarah, David and Morgan make a recommendation at the next meeting about what content we should make available."
Hurdle 4: Meeting others where they are
Hear, help, handle. When team members come to their leaders with an issue, I believe they often already know how to solve it. While it can be difficult to pause and listen, especially when you're busy, I put my cell phone aside and turn my laptop in another direction, so I can really focus. Then, I ask them if they want me to just listen (hear), if they need ideas (help), or if they are so fed up that they just want me to take care of the situation for them (handle).
One time, a high performing team member came to me with a recurring issue she was having with a leader in sales. He was very directive and she felt like he didn't listen or want to collaborate. I could tell she was fed up and she asked if I could just handle it this time. I was happy to go have a conversation with him on her behalf.
I’m excited to learn more strategies as I continue my leadership journey. What reminders and tips do you have on your whiteboard?