Having the Conversation

Do you remember when I posted this and number 5 was Have the Conversation? Well, I’m happy to report that I took my own advice.

This week has been emotionally draining. Our quarterly business review meeting was all day Wednesday and it left me feeling like months and months of work wasn’t validated, and if anything, all the hard work was diminished and I was left feeling like I wasn’t given the uninterrupted time to report on my projects.

I felt disrespected and frustrated. And honestly, I felt stuck. I was in a room of 12 men and 3 other women. 3 women had reports to give including me, and all 3 of us were treated VERY differently than our male counter parts. We were interrupted numerous times, men would interject with questions regarding next steps without fully listening and waiting for us to suggest them, and many times our thunder, our moment to shine, was stolen as a male coworker interrupted to disclose the success of a project.

The challenging part for me was that the room of men included everyone from our VP down to my peers. It was a mixed audience and it’s hard for me to balance the right level of professionalism, while also sticking up for myself. If it were a room full of my peers, I would have been very comfortable asking them to wait and share their thoughts after I was done, but when it’s the leadership team of the business interrupting and asking questions on numbers, successes, next steps, etc. before I can get there, my frustration soars, and I shut down out of fear of snapping and appearing as an emotional and unprofessional female. It’s a tough balancing act. And it’s a tough situation.

I work in a technology field that is male dominated. I will be up against this my whole career. And because of that, I need to speak up and share with the men on the team how their actions are perceived. Because that’s what it’s about. I do think these men have good intentions, but they don’t see how their interruptions and comments are perceived as disrespectful and stealing the limelight of the women who have worked tirelessly on projects that have taken months or years.

So, I sat down with my direct manager and gave him feedback. I told him the time and attention was unbalanced. It was favored towards the part of the business where there is a male leader. I asked him to help me with getting my appropriate amount of time to report on projects as well. I also told him that after speaking with him for over an hour the day before, my projects still weren’t captured accurately and I would like to discuss my projects. The other person on our team, a man, always reports on his projects, but this opportunity is not extended to me. I also told him that in order to ensure my projects are updated accurately, I will update them and take this off of his plate. I made it a point to illustrate to him that he requests project updates on 3 different documents. Then he takes those 3 documents and restructures them into 3 additional documents for the meeting. This is neither efficient nor are projects being captured accurately. My manager, always being good at taking feedback, was very welcome to me taking that off of his plate and he even recognized that he’s not very efficient with capturing projects and was more than happy to let me lend a hand. I shared a couple of other examples and our conversation ended.

I know my work isn’t done though. I know that I am going to have to hold my manager accountable to see these things through. I know I am going to have to speak up in meetings and fight for my allocated time, and I know I am going to have to work harder to be heard. And although I can go on to say how unfair it is that women have to work harder in this capacity, I’m going to focus on the positive – by speaking up and asking my male colleagues to wait until I am done, I will make their actions and behaviors obvious to them and hopefully enact change. I know it won’t be easy, I know it won’t be quick, but I am a valuable member to the team and they need to sit back listen and give the women on the team their time as well.

So you may be wondering how you start this conversation. Well, here is my advice:

Have a monkey, bring a banana. In other words, if you go to your manager with a problem (a monkey) come with a possible solution or two (a banana). This will naturally steer the conversation away from you bithcing, and towards resolution. It’s a positive way to discuss problems, challenges, conflicts, etc. Not sure what solution you can offer? Tell that to your boss too, and let him/her know you’d like to brainstorm some with their help.

Go into the conversation prepared to give feedback AND receive feedback. No one is perfect. No one. Not even you. Sure your boss may have royally dropped the ball so give him that feedback. But also be willing to receive feedback. When I am really frustrated I get VERY quiet in meetings. Feedback I got from a male colleague was he sees this and wants me to say something. Men are not body language readers, they are direct, so his point was direct conversation resonates with men.  Structuring a conversation around feedback gives a tone of improvement, changes for the better, etc. instead of complaining and griping.

Be next to your boss, not in front of him. What I mean here is ingratiate yourself. I don’t mean kiss his ass, or suck up. Instead, figure out how you can help him too. You’re going to your boss for help, now figure out what you can do for him too. After all, you are both a part of the team. A team that must drive results so if you know you can take something off of your manager’s plate that would help him and you – well that’s a win-win. One key point to note though is don’t take everything off your manager’s plate. Don’t overload yourself. Be careful and go into the meeting with an idea of what you can do to help your boss. I knew the project updates were not efficient at all and it really bothered me that after spending so much time discussing them with my boss, he still screwed them up. So this was an easy place for me to offer some help, and for future meetings it ensures my project updates are accurate.

Be Prepared. If you need to jot down a few notes do so. If you need to collect your thoughts, and take a pause during the conversation do so. Go into the conversation with clear and specific examples. This to me is critical. Men are direct creatures; they don’t pick up on subtlety and clear examples again lets your boss know you have given this some thought, there is “evidence” so to speak to your point, and there are clear tangibles your boss can work on to improve. Being prepared will show your boss that you respect his time, and you really gave the situation some thought. You aren’t flying off of emotions, or being unreasonable. I’d say for women this is especially important for us to do. We can be level headed, professional, and respectful so we need to convey this in everything we do. We are not purely driven off of our hormones and our cycles.

Hold your manager accountable for helping you and applying the feedback you shared. I asked that my manager ensure projects for my team are rolled up through me as I am the lead; he agreed. Now I am going to hold him accountable to do this. If that means I have to recommend edits to the agenda for meetings so I get my allocated time, I’m going to do so. If that means I need to follow up with my manager and address additional examples of the same behavior, I will do so.  This is about being diligent and respectful and showing your boss that you’re serious and need his help to drive change.

Get over it. Women can dwell up one side of the Great Wall of China and down the next. I know because I do. I think about it, over analyze it, and then think about it some more. My best advice is to have the conversation, and let it go. I can guarantee you that your male coworkers have. Let the frustration go, the annoyance, the bitterness – whatever you may be feeling and focus on accountability and driving change with your manager’s help. If all else fails, there’s always wine at the end of the day.

  1. Have you experienced yourself, or other women being overshadowed in group meetings?
  2. How do you go about having a “tough conversation” with your manager?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s