Admittedly, I am small in stature, have a high-pitched voice, and appear very feminine. As a result, I often go into meetings with men—especially powerful men—with a persistent fear that I will not be heard. Or, a fear that if I am heard, my ideas will be dismissed as unimportant—or even childish—because of my demeanor.
Early in life, I adopted the description William Shakespeare gives of Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” With that motto in mind, I determined to be brave in those meetings, even though my heart was pounding in my ears.
Of course, you don’t have to be a small, feminine woman to struggle with such things. I have friends who are larger women and friends who are more masculine women who also struggle to be heard. We often feel overlooked simply because we are women.
Why do men overlook women? It could be they are used to relating only to men in a professional capacity, so they may not realize they are subconsciously ignoring us. It could be they have not had a lot of women in their lives giving them positive information or feedback, so they naturally gravitate toward men. Perhaps they are slightly afraid of women because they don’t understand us—or our intentions—fully.
Without excusing dismissive behavior, I have found if I don’t immediately assume bad motives, it stays my anger and frustration, becoming all the more determined to prove them wrong—to show them a better way. I look at it as a long-term process, not something that can be overcome in one meeting. It takes time to reassure them they can trust me—even rely on me. Here are some of the ways I have learned to do this over time:
I usually find myself most overlooked in meetings when I am not prepared. So I make sure I take time to prepare for meetings, planning ahead the things I want to get across. If I write things out so that my opinion is clear and confident, I find that I’m more likely to be heard when I speak up.
Part of this preparation includes research. I have learned that cold, hard facts often get a man’s attention and confirm that my interest is not grounded in an emotional reaction—a trait some men automatically expect from women. Rather than rail against this perception, I just demonstrate through my preparedness that he’s incorrect. I do not cave to an emotional rant—I stay focused on the facts and present my case as reticently as possible. That said, there is nothing wrong with expressing concerns passionately—if the subject calls for it. Passion is contagious.