Disrupting Tradition: How to Prepare for Being the Only Woman at the Table

People are saying that we’re living in an “era of disruption”—a time of change that affects political, social and economic climates across the globe. Because trends are unpredictable, it’s difficult to plan the next move for your career, organization or even today’s 3 p.m. board meeting. There are alarming, even scary, parts to living/working world that’s hard to predict (did you get the memo about the reality TV star who now possesses nuclear launch codes?!).

But when it comes to your own career and the difference you can make on a personal or organizational level, there are ways to view this time of change positively. What better moment to stand up—and out—offering a fresh perspective as the outsider or only woman at the table than when people and organizations are already forced to look for alternative solutions?

Now, that doesn’t mean change will come easily. But what good thing does? Here are some tips to get you started on your road to disrupting tradition.

  1. Show Up

…at the meeting/conference/networking event. You can’t make an impact if you’re not present. It may be intimidating when you know you’re going to be of a minority in the room, so start with reframing your thoughts around why you’re there. What personal goals could this help you meet? Are you standing up for a larger cause? Could it help build your knowledge or confidence? Is there another person who could use your support? Being the second woman in the room can make just as big of a difference as being the first. Hang on to this “why”—whatever it is. It can be your greatest asset when navigating new waters.

  1. Find Your Voice

…even when your inner critic is telling you to be quiet. Listen carefully to the discussion with your “why” in mind. It may help you stand your ground if your ideas aren’t immediately welcomed. Come to the table not only with possible solutions but also possible problems to those solutions—get ahead of the naysayers in the room.

  1. Prepare for Pushback

…for that time when someone calls you “bossy” or some other derivative of it. Whether you view the label as good or bad, “the word implies that ‘someone is assuming, or exercising, authority they’re not entitled to. They’re overstepping their bounds,’” according to Gabrielle Adams of the London Business School. Decide ahead of time how that word is going to make you feel: Do you embrace the label, like Amy Poehler? Or fight against it, like the #banbossy campaign?

Facebook COO and best-selling author Sheryl Sandberg suggests calling out bias before it surfaces. “The ‘too aggressive’ penalty is just one of the findings from Women in the Workplace 2016,” she writes. She describes a freelance film director going in to pitch, “but instead of diving into why she deserved the project—and the money that came along with it—she began with the following: ‘I just want to say up front that I’m going to negotiate, and the research shows that you’re going to like me less when I do.’” According to Sandberg, the strategy worked.

Giving you the “bossy” label is someone else’s effort to put you back in your place, in “bounds.” But you are not here to fit in. You’re here for your “why.” Remember that.

Want to learn more from those who have embraced disruption, built grit and carved their own path to success? Join us for a “Disrupting Tradition: Stories on Taking the Road Less Travelled” networking event featuring a range of speakers from different industries, disrupting different traditions.

Coming soon to a city near you!

Toronto, May 19th

Calgary, June 7th

Vancouver, June 8th

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