Five Simple Ways to Rock it When You’re the Only Woman in the Boardroom
Yesterday a good friend - a neurosurgeon at the top of her field - asked for advice on how to “be heard” by her peers on the board of their hospital (unsurprisingly, all men). So it got me thinking about my learnings as a woman in the workplace, what I’ve learned along the way, and what I needed to not only make it work but to have it work for me as I progressed from entry to exec-level in a Fortune 500 company.
Having spent most of my 20+ year career in a male-dominated field (tech) in a male-dominated business (drinks), I can confidently say that I have learned a thing or two in my countless hours sitting as the only female at the conference table.
So with that I share five of the key lessons I’ve learned along the way. During these interesting and changing times, they serve as a reminder that it’s us women who need all the edge we can get.
1) Identify your superpower and use it, use it, use it.
Look around the room. What do you bring that your colleagues don’t?
For me, it was customer orientation. I quickly became known as the expert who could represent the customer perspective in decisions. My colleagues looked to me to “be the customer” as we set strategies and ran the business day-to-day.
While it remained unsaid, and I didn’t plan to take this role, once I realized it, I leaned into it and understood its value. Know your superpower.
[Related: Why Your Business Needs a Superhero]
2) Embrace the power of well-placed silence.
Controlling the conversation doesn’t mean dominating the conversation. Be thoughtful. Resist the temptation to fill the silence.
A few well-placed and well-timed provocations can actually steer the discussion in the right direction - upping your equity fast.
3) Be the master of the obvious.
Speak your mind, even if you think your point may be obvious and not worth sharing. If you don’t, your colleague likely will and will be lauded for their “brilliant point.”
I cannot count how many times I've mentally solved a problem and moved onto the next topic when someone else restated the problem in different words to a room nodding in amazement. So, just say it.
4) Some colleagues WILL shamelessly regurgitate your ideas as their own - get okay with it.
Sometimes as soon as a few seconds later. Every conference room has one or two parrots.
It’s true - imitation is the best form of flattery.
5) Find your allies and get them invested.
Ahead of key decisions, identify the influencers and pre-wire them to support your point of view. Let them get their fingerprints on the idea to start to think as their own, and they’ll defend it. Teamwork makes the dream work - if it furthers your organization faster, you all win.
Think about the space you want to occupy at that table. Diverse leadership teams perform. The edge and perspective you bring as a woman is the difference between a mediocre and high-performing executive team. Know your strengths and lean into them. And you don’t need the limelight to make change happen - unless you want it.
During a road trip to Maine, my nine-year-old daughter and I stopped in a little gift shop in Portsmouth, NH. She picked up a towel that said:
Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.
“Mom, this is hilarious!” she exclaimed. I have to admit, her reaction made me laugh, but it also reminded me of my other priority as a mom to continue to raise her to find her superpower and use it.
Lauren Spagnola-Robins is the founder and CEO of reFRAME Transformation, leaning on 20+ years of consulting and F500 experience to help companies grow faster with greater profitability by implementing efficient, scalable, agile operations. A global executive and mother of two, she is passionate about growing women leaders and helping women in all walks of life to thrive. Contact her at email@example.com.
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CEO & Founder
I’m a senior exec specializing in business transformation that takes companies to the next level. I specialize in delivering global and cultural change programs that unlock massive operational efficiencies to be reinvested in growth opportunities, job retention, D&I programs, etc. I have a business transformation consultancy I am a big proponent of teaming so also keen to meet women whose skills complement mine. I live on the upper west side with my husband, force of... Continue Reading
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