What do you do when your best efforts to contribute in meetings and be proactive at work seem to go unnoticed? For many women, people of color, and even introverts, this can be an all-too-familiar challenge.
This regular (and frustrating) treatment may be happening for a variety of reasons. Read on to learn more about the potential root of the problem as well as some concrete steps that both you and your employer can take to correct the issue.
“Is it me, or is it them?”
It can be frustrating when you’re trying hard to get your point across but you keep getting ignored or—even worse—someone else gets the credit for your ideas. So in this situation, who’s at fault? Sometimes, different communication styles as well as gender norms and stereotypes may be to blame.
- Many women are socialized from a young age to speak in a style that can be considered polite and indirect. Unfortunately, this politeness can oftentimes be confused with doubt, timidity, or even weakness. This tone also opens the door for a more assertive co-worker to jump in and take over the conversation.
- People of color—and especially women of color—face overt and implicit biases that can hinder their efforts to successfully and succinctly communicate. According to a 2019 Culture Amp report, only 60% of Black and Latinx women feel that they can voice their opinions in the workplace without negative consequences.
- People who are naturally reserved or introverted may also struggle with being heard. Being put on the spot or dealing with interruptions can be very difficult if you tend to think deeply before speaking (and there’s nothing wrong with that!).
Strategies for making yourself heard
Regardless of whether the root of the problem can be traced to an external issue or internal one (more often, it will be a combination of the two), there are adjustments that you can make in your communication style that can help elevate your voice in the office.
- If you find that you’re being ignored or others tend to take credit for your ideas, think about your communication style. Is it passive or is it more assertive? For example, phrasing a request as a question is passive. Consider the difference between “Do you think you could get this to me by five?” and “I need this by five.” Choosing more assertive phrasing (while also communicating a mutual sense of respect) and speaking with confidence will help to compel others to take you seriously.
- If you’re constantly being interrupted or talked over, there are ways that you can politely continue to speak, keeping your initial train of thought moving forward. Something like, “I’d like to finish the point I was making” is one way you can stop interruptions in their tracks.
- If you’re an introvert, it can helpful to prepare and plan what you want to say before a meeting or event in order to avoid being caught off guard. If you go this route, be sure to plan your response for (and rehearse) a variety of situations.
How workplaces can do better
Of course not all of the responsibility should rest on your shoulders, especially in cases of bias. Organizations need to address why some employees’ voices are not being heard or valued, and work to be more inclusive.
- Rather than simply suggesting you speak up more in meetings, your manager should be prepared to provide concrete feedback and coaching (when possible) on how to best deliver a professional opinion, question, concern, or recommendation.
- Space should be made for more introverted folks to voice their opinions and contribute to the conversation. This can mean distributing meeting agendas beforehand and ensuring that everyone is getting a chance to speak, not just the loudest or most extroverted employees.
- The organization’s leadership needs to ensure that they are working toward their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) goals. From anti-bias trainings to sponsorship programs, there are plenty of areas in which employers can take action.
If you’re concerned that your contributions are going unnoticed, or that you for any reason are unable to voice your opinion freely, it’s important that you speak to a supervisor about it. If it’s an organizational issue, it needs to be addressed.
Have you ever felt unheard at work? What did you do about it? Share your experience with us on Facebook.
Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.