The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How can women be taken seriously in a room full of men?” is written by Leslee Kiley, COO of Hill Holliday.
I have found that the key to being taken seriously is projecting the kind of self-confidence that comes from doing your homework, feeling truly prepared, and just plain knowing your stuff.
My industry has certainly made progress since the Mad Men era. But I’ve had moments, like many women, where I have felt dismissed, overlooked, or just not taken seriously simply because I’m a woman. I would love for my daughter to have a career where she doesn’t have to think about how to prepare for or overcome gender-based bias.
My father was an art director on Madison Avenue and my mother was a schoolteacher. They were equal partners in every aspect of their lives—my father the creative, conceptual, easy-going thinker and my mother the practical, intellectual, hard-driving activist. Dinners in our house were spent sparring and debating—war, civil rights, foreign policy, and politics. No topic was off limits, and what I watched prepared me well for a career in advertising, and for commanding a room.
For me, self-confidence requires a disciplined approach to building a reasoned and persuasive argument, a conclusion I came to from my early years at the dinner table. Understanding the facts—what the data and insights are telling you—is key. There are no shortcuts; substance really matters.
Early in my career, that meant a lot of time preparing—for meetings, presentations, and conversations. Over time, my need to feel prepared hasn’t changed, but the time required to get there has diminished. And yet, working in a dynamic industry with an unprecedented pace of change means you’re always learning something new, so digging deep on something is an always-on activity.
At the same time, what I learned from my dad is that while an objective look at the facts and forces is important, knowing how to frame those into a compelling story that hits a nerve, opens one up to thinking differently, and makes a strong case is equally critical. This is where emotional intelligence comes in, and where women have the advantage. Understanding where your audience is coming from, whether it’s one or 10 or 100, finding a way to meet them where they are without giving up your truth or your perspective must also be part of your preparation.
When I’ve done both the digging and the framing of the compelling story, when my own point of view is clear and strong, I have the confidence to demand that my viewpoint be heard and respected—no matter who’s in the room. And when I look back, I realize that some of the best preparation I had for being taken seriously by a room full of men was being raised by a father who not only took my own aspirations and arguments seriously, but supported and encouraged me along the way.