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Women in business: How to make your voice heard

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The business world is changing for the better. It’s no longer the dyed-in-the-wool boys’ club it used to be, and businesspeople are increasingly open to useful discussions on workplace toxicity, inequity and male optimization. It’s come a long way – but it also has a ways to go.

Nothing, so far, has proved to be a magic bullet solution for women in the workplace. Women are still routinely undervalued, talked over in discussions and passed over for promotions against more vocal male counterparts. When women do speak out – when they voice their opinions and raise their objections – they still run the risk of being labeled “difficult”.

Knowing all that, how does a woman in the modern workplace make her voice heard? Understanding that a) things are slowly changing, but b) there’s still a risk of ostracism, how do you loudly and proudly advocate for yourself?

In short: it’s partly, but not entirely, about how women help each other. Let’s take a look.

Support Other Women

You’ve all heard the saying, “power in numbers”. It’s a universal truth that the more voices behind a cause, the more clout and cultural power the cause has. Luckily, vital discussions like #MeToo have paved the way for further talks about power imbalance and equitable treatment in the workplace. But those discussions tend to happen at a remove, at a macro level, in the detached sphere of social media.

What needs to happen is for those discussions to make their way to the individual level. Women need to support women in their real-life work situations. It’s undoubtedly important to have a broadscale cultural discussion, but there also needs to local, micro-level, granular support. Talk to the women in your office; support them if things go wrong; and empower one another to do your best.

Discuss Often, and Be Candid

Be frank about your experience at work. Be candid about your aspirations, setbacks and anxieties. Celebrate your successes and seek guidance to fix your weaknesses. Advocate for yourself.

Recently, more space has been given to women-only discussions about issues affecting women, which is a terrific leap forward. For example, the new Jada Pinkett Smith talk show, Red Table Talk, invites women of different ages and backgrounds to discuss issues pertinent to their shared experience. This encourages other women to speak their minds, to be as forthright as possible, even when it seems that there’s external pressure to stay silent.

Rethink Whose Responsibility It Is

The role of empowering women can’t be entirely up to women. The “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality conveniently excludes the fact that men are complicit in the status quo. For women’s voices to be heard, men have to undertake the project of dismantling a system where women’s voices are routinely made quieter.

So, for the men out there, if you want the voices of your female coworkers to be heard, take action. Allow women space and time to speak; call out people who talk over women in meetings (you can do this privately, to avoid embarrassment for both parties); and generally encourage the women in your workplace to succeed.

Working together, everyone can help to amplify the voices of women in business. With support, candid conversation and both-sides advocacy, the workplace of the future can look a lot fairer.

About Karli Cowan

karlic@thebusinesswomanmedia.com'

Karli Cowan has for decades been one of the all-too-few women in the automotive industry, and is committed to helping women better negotiate the male-dominated industry.

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