In our world of surgeries and SPF, having a baby face, or looking eternally young, is something that inspires huge amounts of societal jealousy. But in the workplace – particularly when you’re a young woman trying to be taken seriously – it can be a real hinderance.
We already know that women find it harder to be assertive in the workplace. Whether it’s imposter syndrome, sexism or old boys’ cultures, it’s not easy for women of any age to be on the receiving end of respect from their colleagues or clients. Add in experience gaps, ageism and a lack of confidence, and it isn’t hard to imagine how intimidating it can be to be the youngest woman in the room.
So, when you’re surrounded by men – experienced, older men, at that – who see a young, perhaps inexperienced woman, how do you make it known that you, too, are a force to be reckoned with. Or, at the very least, a professional deserving of respect.
Truthfully, it’s a balancing act. Demanding respect drops you in that old ‘she’s bossy/ she’s a bitch’ trap, and can undermine the likely very valid points you’re making. Playing the giggly, passive, placatable woman that men have come to expect doesn’t win you their respect, just their acceptance.
It’s a bit of a minefield. So I turned to an expert. Ayo Ogunde is a Strategy Director in our Digital & Social team, and she’s no stranger to being the only woman in the room. She’s also a bit of a badass, and throughout her career she’s picked up a few tips and tricks for asserting yourself in a male-dominated environment.
“It requires a blend of confidence, competence, and communication. For me, it’s about making your voice heard, respecting others, and believing in your own sauce.”
Exhibit Confidence: sit up, head up, be clear with your communication. Be assertive but not aggressive. Speak with conviction and back up your statements with facts where possible.
Establish Expertise: Demonstrate your expertise. You are the right person for the job and you deserve a seat at the table. Share insights, offer solutions, and contribute effectively to discussions. Your knowledge and unique perspective are invaluable assets.
Set Boundaries: Be professional and respectful, but also ensure that you’re treated the same way. Don’t tolerate being interrupted or spoken over. If it happens, calmly assert your right to finish your point.
“I try to remind myself, that my presence and perspective are not just valuable, but essential to the diversity and success of the team and the work that we do.”
Build Relationships: Understanding your colleagues’ perspectives and building rapport can aid in mutual respect and effective collaboration. Identify allies within the business who can offer support and guidance. A mentor, especially one familiar with navigating similar dynamics, can provide valuable advice and advocacy.
Communicate Effectively: Be concise and articulate. Avoid jargon and clearly express your ideas. Good communication can bridge gaps in understanding and experience.
Highlight Achievements: Don’t shy away from shouting about what you’ve done, and what you can do. Take credit for your work and let your contributions speak for themselves.
“literally just imagine that I’m Michelle Obama or some other badass that no one would ever dare speak over!”
Sometimes, the most effective professional development comes from within. Reminding yourself that your opinions, perspectives and voice deserve to be heard is a vital first step in becoming not only more assertive, but more confident in your abilities.
But real change comes from the people around you. So lift each other up. We all have a part to play in making sure everyone has a seat at the table.