Ask Anna: How can I get heard in meetings?

This time our agony aunt Anna Higgs tackles a question from a reader who feels overlooked, and talked over, in meetings, and offers some strategies for change

Dear Anna,

I work in a team that’s reasonably balanced in terms of men and women but our meetings have always been quite male-dominated. Our (male) manager doesn’t seem to notice the balance of who gets airtime so things are getting worse. I’d normally keep my head down but a lot of the space is taken up with stuff that’s being said in order to be seen to comment rather than actually progressing things, so it feels like such a waste of everyone’s time. These meetings are a rare occasion we are with our boss so they can be really important for how we’re all seen and recognised for what we do in the business. I know I’m not the only woman in the room that sees this as a big issue, but what can we do?

Anon

Dear Anon,

Thanks for asking this question – it’s a really tricky area as it’s not always one that’s about gender. That said, a lot of workplaces are unrepresentative of the world around them and so their structures as well as cultures often default to reflect those in charge. You only need to look at the woeful statistic that currently only 33 women are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (a measly 6.6%) to recognise it is a big issue. Additionally, that tiny number dwindles to almost nothing when you look for women of colour in leadership roles (at the time of writing it’s one, equalling 0.2%).

Let’s set gender aside for a minute though, and think about the foundational level of what’s going on here. I was on a coaching training course when I had my mind blown by our facilitator asking us to think about how most conversations work. She pointed out that most conversations are two people waiting for a gap to say the next thing they want to get across. I’m sure you can remember many conversations where you were explaining something and the other person leapt in and said something along the lines of “oh yeah, that happened to me when….” and took the conversation in a direction that was focused on their narrative.

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes