Owning Your Voice

career development communication at work confidence building d&i strategies return to work Mar 16, 2022

There has been much research and debate around what is the key to advancement for women in business. Much focus is on “fixing”, or as we like to view it "empowering" the individual herself - increasing networking skills and visibility at work, finding a mentor, identifying a sponsor, becoming political ‘savvy’; to name a few.

There is also great discussion around shifting the culture and tackling negatives biases in the workplace; to provide the best platform to allow for women to advance in their careers.

One common denominator in all these debates is the importance of ‘owning your voice’.  What does that mean? Irrelevant of whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, it means expressing yourself at work, having an opinion, vocalising your thoughts, being heard and seen; in your own authentic way.

In our work at Thriving Talent, we know that this is especially relevant when women return to work, after a parental leave break or when women are looking to advance their career.

We find for many women, especially those with caring responsibilities, are often  ‘apologising’, whether it is because we need to leave work to pick up the kids (irrelevant of whether the meeting has over-run) or because we cannot attend the social get-togethers as frequently due to conflicting priorities. In the past, this has been a female-only conversation. However, with changing desires and demands of Generation X and Y, more new men and fathers find themselves in these situations.

Here are a few practical tips to help you "own" your voice at work.

Speaking up in meetings

You know your own style better than anyone. Maybe you speak less in meetings because you like to process the information first and yet when you have thought through your response, you find the topic has moved on. Explore new models for effective meetings to allow for these differences or review agenda items prior to the meeting so that you can start the processing, which will allow you to react quicker.

If however, you notice that in the past you have been more vocal and now you feel yourself holding back, ask yourself why? Maybe the discussions link to projects which started on your parental break so you feel you have little to offer or are even afraid to ask the ‘silly’ question? Make the effort to find out more about such projects, form an opinion and share your thoughts. ‘Fresh eyes’ offer new perspectives and your observations could provide valuable insights to the team. You are invited to the meeting because people want to hear from you!

Notice your language

I have already referred to apologising, “I’m sorry to bother you but….” – it is likely that your body language apologises too, as you ‘shrink’ in size and take up less space.

Other expressions also have the same impact and suggest a lack of belief in yourself or conviction in what you are saying. For example, “I am not sure what you think but ...” or “I may well be wrong here but …”, “I just thought ...”.

This is not to say we need to be a bulldozer and over dominate with our opinions - we can still use our gifts of emotional intelligence and empathy to read a situation/people AND articulate ourselves with assertiveness.

If you do hold back at voicing your thoughts, start with small steps – speak up using a different language, more collective “we/us”.

For example: “I’m wondering….what’s another way we could meet this goal?”, “what if we explored ...”, “another idea is xxxx”, “what makes this an effective strategy for us?”.

Once you grow in confidence, you will then find yourself being more committed to your idea – “I think that we could do/try xxxx”, “I believe this is our best option”.

Your Career Plan

Take control of your career plan and how you want to advance. Ask yourself, what do I want from my career? What does career success look like? What will it give me? Start with best-case scenario rather than settling for what you think is possible, or not possible as is often our initial focus!

With the best case scenario, reflect on how that aligns with your values as a parent and make any modifications so you have a career plan which honours a healthy work/life balance.

Take this goal to your manager, articulate your aspirations and what you need to make it work. Just because it hasn’t been done before in your organisation does not make it impossible. You may be the person who shifts the current model and working at 60%/70% is feasible. Don’t assume.

Find something that you do find interesting/engaging about the work/team

At times, we do not speak up, simply because we are not interested in the topic. Others however can perceive this as being aloof or disengaged. If the topic is a large part of your work then it is best to explore what you do find stimulating, otherwise, you will quickly become invisible when you are detached from the conversations. If you are struggling, talk to others and see what they are resonant about – it can be contagious!

Understand your value

Remind yourself what you do well, what are your key strengths and competencies? What is a consistent message in your reviews and feedback?

If you have returned to work after a parental/career break or due to ill-health, a lot has changed - for you and at work - and we tend to focus on what we are not doing so well (personally and professionally!).

Instead, reflect on your value and if this feels a stretch, speak to those you have worked with and solicit their feedback to help you re-connect to your assets.

Communicate your accomplishments

Self-promotion is a challenge for many. It evokes fears of being perceived as arrogant or boastful.

However, it is important to have the confidence to communicate your achievements, so that key stakeholders in the business become aware of who you are and your value to the business.

Explore with your manager how you can best do this, brainstorm as a team as to how you celebrate successes and inform others of accomplishments?

Find a sponsor in the business who inspires you and you respect – keep them informed and if all else fails, let them do the promoting for you!

Do something that scares you out of work

At the core, it is typically confidence &/or a knock in self-esteem that holds us back from speaking up. Rather than focus all your energy on how to build confidence at work, look externally.

What would stretch you out of your comfort zone, be it in sports, hobbies, travel?

When you find the courage to try something new and then succeed, you become stronger and more confident. You stand taller, take up your space and this will have a positive impact on how you show up at work.

If you need more support, there are many choices. Consider external groups who meet up which provide the opportunity to speak up. Look at the Toast Masters groups, singing groups, debating societies – all provide forums to become more at ease with being heard and seen.

Talk to those who inspire you and watch them – how do they show up? What techniques do they use?

If you feel like you need to re-connect to your own confidence and self-esteem to be fully present at work, do join us for the next cohort in the Empower Your Future programme. Details here >

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