diversity in the workplace
There are strategies women can adopt to make their voices heard at work. PHOTO: Oregon Department of Transportation

Editor's note: Epicor, provider of cloud-first enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, has increased the number of female senior leaders — vice president and higher — 50 percent in the past year. One of Epicor’s recent additions is Jignasha Amin Grooms, senior vice president of Human Resources. Here she shares her thoughts on ways women in the workplace can make themselves heard.

Many women believe they have to prove themselves, a belief that permeates both their personal and professional lives.

While I urge all employees — regardless of gender — to always bring their very best to work, I also very specifically coach women that is important to say no or to ask how the task(s) will add business value before agreeing to do them.

This provides a clear perspective on how the extra work will drive business objectives and allow the employee to articulate the added value she added during a performance/development conversation with her manager.

The problem with blindly agreeing to take on a lot of additional tasks is that it potentially takes away your ability to prioritize the most important things on your plate and could leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Always ask the important question around business value before taking on more, and don’t be afraid to say no if it compromises your ability to complete critical tasks already on your plate or doesn’t align to business imperatives.

Think and Have a Holistic View Before Speaking

I believe strongly in completing your due diligence and having a holistic view of a situation before speaking.

That way you have considered multiple perspectives before voicing an opinion, and it can also dissipate the perception that you’re “just making a big deal out of nothing.”

I also coach people to consider both the topic and the audience when voicing an opinion. You should always speak up if you feel strongly about something but how you deliver the message matter and delivering it in a way that resonates with your intended audience in a way that is thoughtful can make all the difference in how your audience receives it.

Remain Calm and Collected

Women can avoid being labeled dramatic or aggressive just for expressing an opinion or vocalizing thoughts by ensuring they are well versed on a topic and by keeping their tone calm and collected.

I love the current conversations about mindfulness practices, and I will often find three to five minutes to collect my thoughts and take some deep breaths before entering into an important meeting/conversation/presentation.

Men can prevent characterizations and perceptions from clouding their judgment by ensuring that they leave their personal biases at the door.

It is important for companies to create a coaching culture where we can directly but respectfully point out to others if they are putting a biased lens on a situation. Often, coaching from one male to another can go a long way.

Most men I work with are happy to do this as they are also fathers, uncles or friends to strong women and want to see them succeed in the workplace on an equal footing with men.

When You Say 'No,' Be Direct and Diplomatic

Be direct and diplomatic.

If you feel that it’s someone you can’t say no to directly, give a concise and honest explanation of the current priorities/deliverables on your plate and offer to help another time.

The best way to build credibility/integrity around this practice is to follow-up when you have time and ask to help. This way you establish a good brand as someone who is willing to take on extra work and shows you are able to rank what is most important to the business.

Make Needs and Preferences Clear

I love that our multi-generational workforce is naturally progressing to a place where men and women feel more comfortable voicing their needs and preferences in the workplace. But while we’re making progress, we’re not quite there yet.

I think until we have a workplace that is fully equitable, there are several options for women:

  1. Join a women’s network within the workplace – this provides a great collective voice to make sure your needs/preferences are shared with the management team
  2. Bring up your needs/preferences during your 1:1 with your manager and ask your input around how he or she can help create an equitable workplace
  3. Find a mentor and ask them to help you articulate your needs/preferences in a way the company can leverage

It’s very important for women to find these multiples channels within their workplace to voice their needs/preferences.

When thinking through your career path, as well as internal mobility opportunities, women should be able to articulate — in a way that resonates with their personal aspirations — what they need so that they’re top of mind when opportunities surface.