This story was first published on January 17, 2013.
If you’re a woman, you’ve no doubt been in this situation before: that moment when you look around the room to find you’re the only female present.
It could be a conference, an industry seminar, networking event, pitching session or client meeting.
Or it could be a standard day at work.
Why it happens is a topic for another conversation. Plenty of them.
How to take control of your personal situation during such occasions is something I can help with. Try these eight tips below.
- Arrive early and find a mentor for the moment. Getting to an event or meeting early does not only show you’re better than punctual, but also provides a great opportunity to scope out the room, get in an early introduction, and quickly meet someone who can become an ally once the room fills up. It’s a great chance to get small talk out of the way, have your voice heard early, and get down to business.
- Don’t become a waitress. Don’t fetch the water, or pass around the plate of food. Sure, this is rude, but for too long this has been seen as women’s work. It’s time to break the habit by going cold turkey. Leave it for a man to do. It’s well and truly his turn.
- Keep the gossip to being about the headlines. Sadly, women are often too quick to be accused of being “gossipers”, even though plenty of men are just as bad. The best rule is to keep up with the newspaper headlines and use those to initiate conversation. Read the business pages and publications relevant to your industry – who’s moving where and working on what? What’s the latest big acquisition or deal going down? The more you read, the more fun it is.
- Don’t replicate the room’s behaviour. There’s no need to act like a man. Your opinions and presence is important as a woman, and will simply be diluted if you attempt to replicate the behaviour of others. This takes confidence and persistence and will work in some rooms better than others. But it’s well worth the effort – and the more you do it, the better you get.
- Wear what makes you look good. Well, to a point. If you’re really concerned about standing out then stick to the standard dark suit to blend in. And if office dress rules apply, then this isn’t the time to break them. But otherwise celebrate this one fantastic workplace opportunity women have been given and take control of your own business style. Stand out from the sea of suit-wearing men. Feel sorry for them on a 35 degree plus day.
- Talk yourself up. A majority-male room can quickly become a competition for who has the biggest ego, so participate in the race without aiming for first place. Don’t be shy – but don’t be arrogant either. Speak up and explain what you do, what you’re working on, what you’ve achieved in the past. Keep it relevant to the situation. The room should know your qualifications.
- Put your body language in the conversation. This is something that applies to all workplace meetings and events. Be present and sit forward, ensure your body language isn’t working against you by leaving you cut out of the conversation. The more physically involved you are, the easier it is the interject and get heard.
- Check-in with yourself. Are you feeling more self-conscious than needed? In these situations many of us feel we’re sticking out like a sore thumb. But depending on the environment, it could well be that nobody else has noticed or cares that you’re the sole woman in the room and will simply value your input. If this is the case, get on with it. It could also be a great opportunity to encourage those present to bring more women into the room next time.