How to be heard in a roomful of men who hog the limelight?
We have all been in office meetings from hell at one point or the other where your only role has been to sit and listen to a series of male colleagues express themselves loudly and endlessly while you wait for your turn. And no surprises for guessing that none of the cues that you sent out- tapping your fingers restlessly on the table or looking pointedly at the watch helpes because when the meeting ends, you have still not managed to get in a word sideways.
Radha Shelat, President and CEO of Nevis Networks , which designs and builds world class hi-tech solutions in India for delivery to global and Indian customers and provides LAN security solutions for enterprise networks, has some easy tips on mastering the Art of Being Heard In Office Meetings. She would know, too, having spent two decades in senior executive positions in leading technology firms including Symantec India where she was Chief Technology Officer, before turning entrepreneur some seven years ago.
Speak up, or be left out
One of the early group of women to enter the tech sector,Radha has this to say about getting heard over the din created by the Men Who Rule Office Meetings: “From 25 years of being in meetings where men outnumber women, I can tell you that men simply assume that they can say whatever they please, however loudly they please to and for however long they wish to. If you don’t put your foot down, you have no choice but to grin and bear the endless monologues.
“It was different in my younger, less experienced days, but today I find myself getting annoyed when the guys in the room dominate the floor as though nobody else has anything to say. I don’t want to change myself to become like them. I want to be gentle and soft spoken –as is my nature-- but being me does not get me heard, so I put my hands up and say assertively : ‘I have something to say on this matter so can you please quickly finish what you are saying?’
The effect is instantaneous and it gets you everybody’s attention. Most men, when faced with such a situation, are embarrassed and don’t know how to handle it. They are more than happy to give you the floor. What might also help is discretely sending out a small note to the person moderating the meeting to tell him/her that you are awaiting your turn to speak.
Do your homework
One can’t say enough about the importance of thorough preparation ahead of a meeting. Make sure you have read the meeting agenda, find out who are the other participants, anticipate the discussion points that will come up at the meeting, and spend some time assimilating all of this to have your own thoughts and responses in place.
“Men come into meetings with presentations while I have seen far too many women throwing their hands up and saying at meetings that they don’t understand a subject and will somebody please explain it to them,” says Radha
“A woman should know that men are well entrenched in the system and she is not going to be invited by them to speak. She has to claim her right to be heard and she has to do this with confidence and without apology. And that can only happen if she goes into meetings and presentations thoroughly prepared, with a summary of what her thoughts are on the topics that are scheduled to come up at the meeting.
Smart, talented women keep silent during meetings, letting their male colleagues take centre stage. They assume that an email sent out later with their thoughts on the subject is enough. It is simply not the same! It is important to learn to speak at meetings, present your ideas, take ownership of them and defend your position. Doing this in a meeting where your bosses and super bosses might be listening is a great confidence builder and can possibly open up opportunities for you as they come up within the organisation.”
Well informed is well-armed
It is equally important to know what’s happening around you: in the organisation, the industry and the developments around the world in general. Catch up on news and brush up your general knowledge as this comes handy during conversations that happen around the table during tea breaks. “Women sometimes struggle with making small conversations,” says Radha.
Radha believes that much of the seeming challenges in our careers can be handled by the simple act of being well informed about developments in one’s area of expertise and beyond. Which is why she is busy planning what has been a long cherished dream: getting together groups of women to demystify the world of technology in the everyday gadgets that we use. “Most of the fear or discomfort that women have with technology comes from simply not even having tried to understand what makes your everyday gadgets works.”
About Radha Shelat: Besides being a passionate technology maven, Radha Shelat is also a keen environment conservationist who spends her weekends in her farm growing organic fruits and vegetables and trying to grow as many trees as possible so that her beloved city has a green lung. It is her fond hope that she will one day apply her knowledge of technology to drive the cause of environment conservation.