photo credit: iStockphoto
photo credit: iStockphoto

Andie Kramer and Al Harris, authors of Breaking Through Bias, Communication Techniques For Women to To Succeed at Work have done some incredible work around the issue of gender bias in the workplace. Their keen observations and applicable strategies are applicable to anyone who feels they aren’t being heard. Sometimes it’s one woman in a herd of “Bros.” Other times it may be a single man in a group of alpha women. Or a single man of color among a sea of white colleagues. You get the idea.

I have really enjoyed their commentary on the news of the day, particularly around how people get heard in a crowded space. Their ideas on communication have ample applications in the work place and in the work of creating influential profiles for companies, brands and people. I particularly liked this recent post on about how to “pile on” to break through, and they generously allowed me to share it with you here.

Without further ado:

Obama’s Female Staff Use “Piling On” Technique to Support Other Women

We have written about the ways in which women in male-dominated meetings face “idea theft,” where a woman’s idea is ignored until a man repeats it as his own, taking credit for her idea. As we set out in Chapter 8 of Breaking Through Bias, women can support each other so that a woman’s ideas are acknowledged as her own.A number of people sent us a link to an article about Women in the White House using the “pile on” technique we describe in Breaking Through Bias to promote other women’s ideas in meetings.

e82e6116-a50e-4205-bc7e-dd843c198671(Punch Cartoon Reprinted with Permission.) Some female White House staffers shared the solution to this common problem. “When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.” We commend the women on President Obama’s staff for supporting each other to ensure that women’s voices and ideas are being heard. As one staffer put it, “Obama noticed, and began calling more often on women and junior aides.” That’s what we like to hear.

In Breaking Through Bias, we share this “pile on” technique, as well as many others that women (and men) can use to make the most of the meetings they attend and to be the most effective at those meetings. As an exclusive for our newsletter subscribers, we recap some additional techniques below:

  • Arrive Early and Stay Late. You should plan to arrive a few minutes early to scheduled meetings. This allows you to gain a sense of the interpersonal dynamics of the people in attendance and to gather perspectives and information to be better prepared for the meeting. It also allows you to choose a good seat (see the next tip). Likewise, don’t rush off when the meeting concludes. If others stick around, you should too. This is an ideal time to deal with conflicts and differences that may have come up during the meeting. It is also a time to foster alliances and learn how others feel about topics discussed in the meeting. Being involved pre- and post-meeting shows you are a team player.
  •  Choose Your Seat Carefully. Now that you are arriving at meetings earlier, you will have your choice of seats. You should capitalize on that. Choose seats that are farther from the phone, doors, food, or coffee, and make sure your seat allows you to spread out — as much as a male counterpart would. Women all too often consign themselves to smaller spaces, which subconsciously sends the message that you — and your thoughts — are less important.
  • Manage Interruptions. In our book, we point to studies that show women, on average, are interrupted by men far more often than men interrupt other men. This is likely why the number one complaint that women have about mixed-gender meetings is the frequency with which they are interrupted. Address interruptions confidently, while not yielding the floor to someone else. By doing so, you are reiterating that your idea, in fact, is one that you consider important, and you are setting a precedent that you will not let idea-interrupters take away your opportunities to speak.
    • If the interrupter is more senior to you, you can use an approach such as: “Joe, would you mind if I finished my point? It will only take a minute…”
    • Depending on the content, if a person routinely interrupts you, a more forceful tone may be justified. In this case, you may use language such as: “Excuse me, Jason, I am not finished. The point I was about to make is…” or “Justin, I would appreciate you not interrupting me. You can speak when I am finished.”

I hope you can put Andie and Al’s “Pile On” and other ideas into practice to help you break through.

They would love to hear from you here.