Tuesday, September 17, 2013

ADVICE: Being Ignored in a Meeting


Have you ever been in this situation: you're sitting in a meeting and make what you think is a great suggestion; you're ignored. Ten minutes later, someone else makes a similar suggestion and everyone thinks it's just the greatest idea. Are you invisible? Did you imagine it? Were you really speaking out loud? How can women deal with being ignored and/or having their ideas dismissed? Of course, this can happen to men too! Here are some suggestions:
  • Make sure you get an adequate seat at the 'table' (so that you are not hiding in a corner);
  • Choose your timing: wait for the 'right opportunity' to jump into the conversation (not always easy);
  • Speak slowly and clearly; offer more than a quick quip;
  • Make sure everyone can hear you; this may be especially challenging if you are naturally soft spoken or if English is not your first language.
  • Don't downplay your remarks: do NOT say, "I guess . . ." or "This may not be important, but . . ." or "This may be a stupid question, but . . ." or end with ". . . don't you think?"
  • Don't be afraid to say something like, "I am glad that xxx agrees with my previous suggestion . . ." if another person seconds your opinion.
  • If you notice this happening to someone else, try to find a way to attribute the idea to the original speaker: "xxx said that 10 minutes ago!" may not be as effective as something like, " xxx suggested . . . "
  • If possible, enlist the support of your peers. Example: a group of grad students meeting with their research advisor. Student xxx makes a suggestion and is ignored. xxx explains what happened off-line and asks his/her peers to look out for future examples. He/she suggests that they all try to back each other up at future group meetings.
  • The situation is tougher when you do not have supportive colleagues; you might be the only female director, department chair, manager, etc. at the table. Most of the advice above applies, but it might be even more challenging to be heard. If you know the agenda ahead of time and have one important point to make, you may want to rehearse it out loud; you might even over prepare so you can answer questions in the same well-rehearsed way. There is, unfortunately, still some truth to the old adage that women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. This is especially true when you are pushing up against the glass ceiling.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this list.  
For more information on this and other topics, please see CSWA's Advice Page.

5 comments :

  1. There is another aspect too which is not covered here. Next time in a conference session with a give and take sort of dialog, notice who interrupts other people. Especially in my field of cosmology, it is much more common that a woman will be interrupted in mid sentence or mid idea by another person, who is almost always male. There have to be graceful ways of dealing with this situation and it would be interesting to hear ideas on this.

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  2. Another aspect of being ignored is also when graduate students who actually value the opinions of the males colleagues better and look for confirmation and validation in them rather than in their female supervisors.

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  3. I would add confident body language to the list. Sit up tall, spread your hands on the table, take up space. Don't hide behind your laptop or look down at your phone. Look around the table and make eye contact. In a group of scientists, many of whom are mild-mannered and quiet, displaying a little bit of social charisma is often surprisingly effective.

    It also helps (if you plan to speak up in a meeting and have time to prepare) not to sit next to your friends and allies, but rather to make sure they are spread around the table or throughout the room. Ask them in advance to speak up in agreement with your comments, and it will sound like your ideas have a broad base of support rather than appealing only to a handful of partisan cronies.

    Hat tip to the APS for their excellent Professional Skills Development workshops, where I learned these and many other valuable skills!

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  5. Perhaps instead of encouraging our female colleagues to be more assertive, we could tell the men to be more responsive and try to push back their sexist tendencies?

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