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 Diane Dietz, CEO and president at Rodan + Fields.
My dad coached my t-ball team when I was a kid. During one game, I looked around and saw that all of the other players on the field that day were boys. I went up to him, tugged on his shirt, and whispered, “Dad, I’m the only girl.”
He said: “Go hit the ball; don’t worry about who’s on the field. Do your job. Do what you need to do.”
As an adult, recalling that exchange has made me think about the role I play in an organization and what I need to deliver, whether or not I happen to be the only woman in the room. It comes down to you and the ball. Focus, experience, and results get you taken seriously in any environment.
Of course, it may be easier on the t-ball field. Corporate America can be complex, even if you do your job incredibly well. But when I was more junior in my career, I quickly learned that knowing more about the consumer than anyone else in the room would position me to be able to speak with confidence. If you have an MBA and work at a packaged goods firm, and you start getting really great results, that speaks louder than the person who speaks loudly in a meeting—regardless of gender.
I’m now the CEO of a female-dominated company, but I spent most of my work life in industries where I was not in the majority. There have been many instances where I was the only woman at the table or on the team.
What I learned on that t-ball field is that you are part of one team or another throughout your working life. And athletics really does mimic corporate America. There are different levels within a team: the starting squad, the relievers, and players with various strengths and skill sets. If you’re a woman in a room full of men, assessing the field through that lens will give you perspective and greater confidence. With that in mind, following are a few tips I have come to rely on as a woman and leader seeking to make an impact:
Learn, and then speak up
Being knowledgeable and bringing your experience to life will give you authority. Do the work necessary to know your customer and what will resonate with them. Then speak up and voice your opinion on decisions about product innovation, marketing, PR strategies, or whatever the case may be. It might take courage to speak out at first, but speaking with that authority will feel more natural over time.
Find an ally
If you’re new to an organization, find someone you connect with who can help with some of the unwritten social norms of the corporate culture. And make sure you have something to offer in return. I come from a background where I can teach a lot about marketing and branding, for instance. By trading, you can develop a strong partnership.
Push for diversity
As a leader, I have seen firsthand that diverse teams have a better chance at delivering stronger results. If you are on an all-male team, start asking why the next new hire shouldn’t be a woman. Or if you’re going to add a board member, why not think about a woman?
My dad’s advice on the t-ball field gave me the confidence to be a team player, regardless of who was on my team. Over the years, the confidence he instilled in me has helped me understand that if you have something important to say, speak up. That’s how you get taken seriously.