Women’s voices remain underrepresented in the media, at conferences and at the boardroom table. Yet according to award-winning author, educator and women’s advocate Shari Graydon, there is hope - and that hope comes from her work in helping women to speak up.
Addressing a crowd of close to 70 executives at a special event hosted by Odgers Berndtson in Toronto on April 26th, Shari drew on 30 years of experience in exploiting the media for issues of importance to her. Founder of Informed Opinions and ExpertWomen.ca, Shari notes that women have been socialized to avoid promoting themselves or claiming their capabilities. But rather than downplaying their value, Ms. Graydon argues that women need to make themselves more visible in the workplace and the public sphere. She shared these six strategies for empowering women to be seen and heard:
1: Buy yourself some time. When a request to speak at a conference or in the media comes up, you may be tempted to say that you’re not the best person to comment. But there really is no best person. Instead of opting out, say that you’re in the middle of something and will call them back. Take ten minutes to decide how you want to position the issue, and then call them back. Don’t worry that your response may not be exactly what that journalist or conference organizer is looking for. Know that your unique point of view matters.
"When a woman is given a microphone and she declines, I would argue that is a sad day for women everywhere. And actually not just women, but for the planet. And certainly for your organizations."
2: Step up to the mic. Having an increased profile makes it easier to have influence, get phone calls returned, or to create change around issues that are important to you. So make sure that you’re speaking up for what you believe in: write that op-ed piece; speak up at your management team meeting; or ask that pointed question of the conference panel. Remember it’s not who you know, but who knows you.
3: Sit or stand where you can be seen. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” is relevant in the corporate setting. Take steps to make your organization’s leaders aware of your capabilities and competencies in real, practical ways, whether it’s taking a seat at the boardroom table opposite your CEO, volunteering for a high-profile project or accepting stretch assignments.
4: Know your value. French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde famously remarked, “If the Lehman Brothers had been ‘Lehman Sisters,’ today’s economic crisis would look quite different.” This statement is now backed by academic research, indicating that global financial markets would be more stable if there were more women in senior positions in the industry. There is a clear business case for more women in the C-suite and at the board level, so take stock of what you have to offer in terms of your competencies and the things you can contribute, as well as your unique perspective.
5: Recruit influential echoes. Who in your organization is respected and also in your corner? Take that person aside before the meeting and say, “I’m going to make a proposal, this is what it’s about. I would appreciate it if you would back me up.” It can be a male colleague, a female colleague, a client — you really have lots of opportunity; it’s just a matter of thinking about it in advance and putting it into action.
6: Make it about something bigger than yourself. It’s often easier for women, in particular, to speak up if they’re doing so on behalf of others. That’s why Facebook COO (and founder of leanin.org) Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to negotiate for a higher salary when they’re up for a promotion. Ultimately, it’s not just for their own sake, but for all the women that come after them.
If you are interested in hearing more about women empowerment, Shari offers regular workshops across the country focused on giving women the chance to apply concrete strategies to amplify their voices, and to receive individual feedback in a supportive environment.
Below are some photos from the event:
Jane Griffith, Partner, Odgers Berndtson addressing the executive crowd at the event
Shari Graydon addressing the crowd at the event
Deborah Rosati from Karma Athletics, Mary Whittle from Westcon & Cynthia Mooney from HP Canada
Catherine Allman from CADRI, Jill Sharland from GTAA & Debbie Heiser from Royal Canadian Mint
Francine Charette from CHEP Canada, Becki Halko, The Hershey Company, Sonia Brown, Johnson & Johnson and Roberta Chow from Odgers Berndtson
Heather Eldebs from RBC, Julia Robarts from Odgers Berndtson, Vanessa Voakes from Stikeman Elliott LPP & Sarah Rickard from Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada
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