m_KathrynIs it true that men are from Mars and women are from Venus? It’s not, of course, but men and women speak a different language—figuratively speaking. Women are often misunderstood in meetings that are dominated by men. They are often overpowered by muscular behavior – the woman’s voice not being heard or seemingly ignored. Leadership coach Kathryn Heath reveals what women are doing wrong during meetings, how to overcome this and why you need to be at your best when in a meeting.

Kathryn Heath is a founding partner at Flynn Heath Holt Leadership whose goal is to move women leaders forward faster. Kathryn’s work is addressing organizations’ specific business targets through customized programs that move women. During decades of leadership coaching, she consistently heard executive women say that they feel less effective in meetings than they do in other business situations. Some say that their voices are ignored or drowned out. That’s when Kathryn and her colleagues created a systematic approach to end this issue.

Women versus Men

m_kathryn 2“Your performance in meetings matters more than you think,” emphasizes Kathryn Heath. What you do in meetings affects your image in the eyes of bosses, mentors, and colleagues. It’s where you’re noticed. It will affect how they treat you as well. According to Heath, women are regularly over-mentored and under-sponsored.

Your performance in meetings matters more than you think. Click To Tweet

Kathryn Heath differentiates the strengths of men and women in meetings. Women tend to draw others in dialogue. They want to hear inputs from around the table while men use fewer qualifiers in their speech. Women question status quo more, tend to break group-thinking, and mitigate risk while men make their points faster. The collective intelligence of work teams rises when more women are added. Men are six times more likely to get their point across and they get more chances to get these ideas included in the company’s final plans. Women exhibit “communal” behavior while men tend to exhibit “agenda” behavior.

Good meeting behaviors

m_volleyballCareers thrive on your strengths and your reputation. Everyone should identify their strengths and figure out how to present them expertly. Along with their strengths, women need to enhance their behavior in meetings. “Women should be actively present and deeply prepared”, Kathryn says. “You can tell if you have done your pre-read.” Women should ask great questions that drive the meeting, and elevate the topic to a new level. The questions you raise should change the course of the meeting, the plan or the business. Another good meeting behavior is having a strong point of view and the ability to put it out there. And finally, being concise is important in meetings where men mostly occupy the seats.

Women should be actively present and deeply prepared. Click To Tweet

So, what are women doing wrong? First, women put too much preamble. Men say that facts are much more important. So just go straight to the point. Reduce the wind-up and men will stop interrupting. Use powerful, muscular words – words that men understand.

Female challenge: Confidence

m_men and womanThe biggest challenge of women is confidence, states Kathryn Heath. How can women be more confident in meetings? “If you have a good idea, put it out there. Do not defer or be cautious. We need your ideas, women!”

The biggest challenge of women is confidence. Click To Tweet

But how do you become more confident in meetings? First, it helps knowing your belief system and being firm about it. If there is a change to be implemented, how do you feel about the change? Does it violate your personal beliefs in any way? Let your voice be heard.

Next, engage your brain cells and go to the meeting well prepared. If you hear something great in a meeting, it’s probably rehearsed. Meetings have a pre-meeting stage – your homework. Do you have a proposal? Prepare for it. Find out the real agenda before the meeting. Talk about it in the lounge with your colleagues. Ask for their support on your proposal.

This may not be what you prefer – wouldn’t it be better to do business in the meeting and not in the hallways? Maybe – but the hallway coalitions and negotiations are a reality in many offices.
m_girl bambooOnce you’re in the meeting, be fully alert and present. Heath describes a meeting like a tennis match. “Try to figure out where the conversation is headed. Prepare a transition statement and to create space for your idea. You really have to focus. There’s a lot going on. To get the chance to voice your proposal and possibly change the course of the meeting, ask transitional questions that can lead to your presentation or your proposal.”

Turn it up and speak out

> Speak out. Every meeting, make at least three comments. Turn your volume up. Men want to hear you speak up and contribute. It’s more a presentation than a conversation (in volume).

Speak out: Make at least three comments every meeting. Click To Tweet

Women have the propensity to keep things inside, including keeping grudges. When the meeting didn’t go well, women tend to torment themselves of what went wrong instead of how to get around it next time. Kathryn says, “Let go of tough meetings. It’s all part of work.”

m_woman mike

Sometimes, men will take your idea as their own. Claim the idea as yours in a kind but firm way. Thank them for reiterating your point – and own it. It’s your idea.

One way to continuously improve is always to ask for feedback. We need to know what we did so that we continually can get better. Women seldom receive feedback on their meeting behavior – according to Kathryn. Are we all raised to be too polite and cautious around women…?

Meeting after meeting

Relationships are reinforced around meetings. Another tip is to come early and stay late. Get to know your colleagues better to strengthen your connections. Grab the chance to get support from them. Discover their points of view and see if you’re aligned – and how you can support them.

Come early, and stay late. Click To Tweet

good performance in a meeting may help you find sponsors. Heath says: “Sponsors use their political capital for you. They stick their neck out; they put you out for a job, and they give you a key assignment. That means more exposure and more good pages to your resume. That’s our vision for all women leaders.”

Kathryn’s goal is for women to occupy 30% of the seats in corporate meetings. To achieve that, women have to have sponsors or supporters.

“And remember: What got you here, won’t take you there. So, you may need to try new things,” she adds.
m_meeting roomKathryn Heath challenges organizations: “To increase profitability, return on assets, market value, return on equity, and sales growth, you need to hire more women.”

Meeting styles and culture types

By the way: how meetings are held and what behaviors are appreciated depends on your organization’s culture as well! If you’re curious about this, check out the blog post Organizational Culture revealed in Meetings.

  • How can you use your strengths to get better meeting results?
  • How will you change your meeting behavior?
  • What new skill are you going to try out?

KATHRYN HEATH, Ph.D., is a founding partner at Flynn Heath Holt Leadership whose goal is to move women leaders forward, faster. She is a developer of leadership programs, coaching and training. 

Marcella Bremer is an author and culture & change consultant. She co-founded this Leadership & Change Blog and OCAI-online.com.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Saira Khan

    I loved this article….many salient points raised and tips offered on how to hold one’s own during corporate meetings.

  2. Julie Musilek

    I don’t appreciate the onus being put on women solely to change their style to be more masculine. What can/should men do to change their approach in meetings, both to how they listen and process women’s comments and how they speak and behave? The idea that not being heard is the woman’s fault is part of the problem!

    1. Marcella Bremer

      I agree with you that both men and women are responsible for fruitful meetings and collaboration. I think Kathryn Heath doesn’t mean that men should do nothing about their mindset and behaviors. But it’s a men’s world as they say, and it is easier to start changing your own behaviors first to be the change you want to see in the world – and gain more influence.
      Many men don’t see the problem and won’t be easily convinced or motivated to do something about it – though more companies already are doing something about diversity and include women in their top executive teams and boards, etc.
      Many women see the problem and feel the frustration and will be motivated to change their presence in meetings. I don’t think they should become like men. But they can apply Kathryn’s tips to increase their being seen and heard – as the first step to influencing this male culture and make it more diverse and inclusive.

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