MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How can more women leaders instill confidence in the workplace? is written by Beth Monaghan, principal and cofounder of InkHouse.
In 2006, I quit a steady PR job in order to open InkHouse, which turned out to be the biggest risk – and biggest reward – of my career. During InkHouse’s early days, my business partner and I would joke about how we were faking it until we made it. We certainly weren’t faking our knowledge of the industry, but instead the confidence of running a larger organization fueled by clients who were taking a chance on our budding agency.
To muster the courage to set out on my own, I became a student of confident women, taking cues on how to take risks before I had gained the confidence that comes from success. The truth is, confidence is what breeds success, and it can be taught. As female leaders, it’s our responsibility to mentor women in confidence strategies and guide them toward a seat at the table. But there’s much to be done in order to build a future where women dominate the board room. According to a 2015 Catalyst study, only 4.2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women.
While it’s clear we can’t change every issue that is holding back women’s advancement in the workplace overnight, we do need to find ways to succeed in an industry where our C-suite is likely to be predominantly male. In my small microcosm of the business world, I have seen the following work for successful women, and I work every day to instill these principles in the females at my agency:
Use your words
If you have a seat at the table, prove that you deserve it. Don’t save your ideas for post-meeting emails to your boss. There’s a reason you were given this role, so speak up and speak confidently. End thoughts as statements and eliminate those two little words – I think – that so often roll off the tongue, giving the subliminal disclaimer that your idea might not be a good one. All ideas are valid, and should be heard and considered. Even if your boss is dictating the points you must make in a critical meeting, say them in your own words. It’s only then that you will deliver the message effectively.
Own the room
Enter a meeting with your head held high, a smile on your face, and be sure to make eye contact and offer a firm handshake. It’s true that first impressions are lasting, and in an industry where client relations account for much of our business success, nailing these non-verbal cues hold a lot of weight. At InkHouse, I tell my teams to try one of social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s power poses before a big meeting; my personal favorite is the Wonder Woman.
Make yourself present
Listening is an art, and it’s important to do so before formulating your next statement. Take note of people’s nonverbal: do they seem interested in the conversation? Confused? Irritated? Then base your response on their cues, not the thought you’ve been waiting to share.
In the face of scrutiny, don’t default to an apology. A thick skin will help you know how to use apologies effectively. Save it for when you’ve actually done something wrong, not because someone doesn’t like what you’ve said. And if you’re unsure how to respond thoughtfully at the moment, it’s okay to tell someone you don’t know, offering to return with a solid response later on.
Do your research and practice
Believe it or not, standing up in front of a room gets easier with time. Someday it will become second nature to be speaking to a crowd, but until that day comes, it’s important to simply practice. You already know the facts, so when given an opportunity to present them, take it. Eventually those jitters will subside and it will become second nature.