I recently attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women. The event was wonderful, providing opportunities motivation, networking, and skill building for 10,000 women. As a female who has worked for technology companies for many years now, it’s rare for me to attend a conference where women are in the majority.
The women who spoke were leaders – executives, CEOs, entrepreneurs, trailblazers, and groundbreakers. They were all smart, brave, and not afraid to admit that they were sometimes nervous or doubtful. What made them particularly inspirational is that they all found ways to overcome their fears, speak up even when it wasn’t encouraged, and find a way to make their voices heard.
One of my favorite things someone said at the conference was that every one of us has the potential to do great things and all of us have power. If you are a woman in a landscape dominated by men, you may not always feel this is a true statement. However, if you follow the advice below, you will find that you, too, have the power to accomplish wonderful things.
1. Know the facts
Before you enter a conversation, gather all the facts you need to support your point of view. Do your research and come prepared. Engaging people in a constructive, fact-based way makes you infinitely more persuasive.
2. Act confident
Notice I didn’t say, “Be confident.” You may be confident, but you may be shy or nervous or scared. That’s OK. Acknowledge your challenges – and then work through them. Look up when you walk. Sit with good posture. Introduce yourself with your title. If people interrupt you, let them calmly know that it’s not acceptable. Keep your cool and say what you have to say.
3. Always sit at the table
If you want to be heard, place yourself in the center of the action, not the outskirts. Sit next to the main decision maker and speak up when you have something to say. Your views are important.
4. Don’t apologize
When you do something that hurts someone else, saying, “I’m sorry” makes sense. But apologizing for speaking up, having a contrary idea, or bringing a different view to the table is something else entirely. You don’t have to justify speaking up. Your views are valid.
5. Fail fast and move on
Don’t let fear of being wrong stop you from speaking up. Failure is a natural part of growth and innovation. Stop self-editing. Instead, take risks, speak your mind, and let others know what you think.
6. Step out of your comfort zone
Keep your career and your life interesting by pushing yourself to go beyond your self-imposed barriers. Stretch yourself. Take a course. Go to a conference. Introduce yourself to a person you’ve always wanted to meet. Learn new skills. Read. Travel. Make a conscious effort to grow yourself.
7. Ask for help
No person will have every skill in every area. There’s a reason different people have different jobs and specialties. Depend on your team to help you successfully complete projects. Look for mentors to help you grow. Build relationships and find allies to open new doors. Having a good support system is critical whether you’re dealing with challenges, experiencing success, or blazing a trail.
8. Advocate for yourself
At the same time, don’t depend on others for everything. Speak up, even if it’s somewhat nerve wracking to do so. Remember, courage isn’t about not being afraid. It’s about moving forward even if you are afraid. Ask for a raise, a new title, a spot on a committee, a chance to become a decision maker. You won’t get what you don’t ask for.
9. Build your own personal brand
Answer the following questions: How are you perceived? How do you want to be perceived? How can you close that gap? Your personal brand isn’t something that’s inflicted on you – you can control it. Be very intentional about your choices and make sure they align with what you stand for.
10. Share your stories and challenges
When you see injustice, speak up. By doing so, you will inspire others to share their stories too. Sharing your stories and challenges helps others (and you) feel like they are not alone. And always know that you are not alone, even if equality challenges make you feel lonely.
Ready to take on the world? Go for it! Let me know about your challenges and triumphs on Twitter: @HollyChessman.