We have all heard it before. We need to be more confident, have more self-belief, speak up, lean in and take our place at the table.
However, that’s not as easy to do as it sounds. What if no one will agree with you? What if no one has mentioned your point of view yet and it turns out to be unimportant? The fact that no one has mentioned your point so far probably means that indeed it isn’t relevant. Surely someone would have hinted at it if it was? Besides, who will listen to you, you are only a small cog in a bigger whole and it will probably be brushed aside anyway. Better keep your mouth shut.
But what if it was important? What if it was relevant? What if you could get people to listen to you?
Career success for women is certainly linked to speaking up. To help you speak up about your views, it is completely vital that you are aware that it is only natural that you have different views from the men around you. Men and women are biologically and neurologically different, we pick up different signals and process emotions differently.
Picking up signals
When in meetings women pick up different signals than men do. In fact, women pick up different signals in every situation. That is because women’s eyes are biologically and neurologically different from men’s eyes. We see different things!
The retina contains two types of photo receptors: rods and cones. The cones are colour-sensitive, whereas the rods are there for night vision, motion detection, and peripheral vision. Men have a higher percentage of those rods, and women have a higher percentage of cones. But that’s not the only difference. Men and women also have another distribution of cells that regulate and interpret the signals that come in from the retina, and the way the virtual cortex then processes the interpretation of those signals is different as well.
Interestingly there are similar differences to the olfactory and hearing system. It seems likely that women and men therefore actually see, smell and hear very different things!
Processing and using emotions
From neuroscience it is known that the limbic system – the part of the brain where emotions are processed – is more developed in the female brain than in the male. In women there is more blood flow through the limbic system and, when at rest, there is more activity. The limbic system is thought to be primarily responsible for our emotional life, and has a lot to do with the formation of memories.
It appears that it is easier for women to process emotions, and women use them more readily when making sense of a situation.
So you pick up different signals and process emotions differently. That means that in business meetings and interactions you most likely see the same situation very differently. As a result you may well have vital insights and information that men do not have. No wonder that you often feel that no one else is putting the points forward that are foremost in your mind.
You need to speak up about what you saw and felt. It’s vital that you share your insights and observations. If you are in a meeting with only one men, it’s likely no one else observed what you did.
You truly do have something to offer, and it would be wrong not to speak up. Would you really just let someone else crash the car just because they haven’t seen the roadblock?
Speaking Up for Career Success
So how to make it work? It may not be easy, but now that you know you have something to offer; something vital:
- Present your views confidently, especially if they are different from those of the men around you
- Rather than just mentioning what you saw or felt, add suggestions for a way forward or another solution. “There is tension between two people in the team. You need to have a meeting behind closed doors to find out how you can help make it easier for them to work together ”.
- Refer to the end-result: “I can tell she feels uncomfortable about our proposition, let me have a quiet word with her and then I am sure she will agree.”
- Find informal channels, in case you are struggling to speak up or be heard in a larger group. You can for instance informally – e.g. in the coffee break, on the way home from a client visit, or in the hallway after a meeting – ask what your colleague saw happening, then share what you saw and ask him or her to ensure it’s part of the decision. Once you have seen the value of your contribution a few times, you will gain confidence to speak up