Women, how we can take control of the conversation in our new virtual environment

Barbara Young In the News

Does this sound familiar?

You are in a meeting. You are met with the obligatory pleasantries and smiles, but once the topic turns to a substantive financial matter, the conversation quickly shifts to the men around you. You listen attentively and have much to say, but when you do speak up, your words are met with apathy. Or worse they are flat-out dismissed. When you strain to make a point, you are labeled as being “overly emotional.” You feel ignored, devalued, disrespected.

For many women, this has long been our experience.

Let me be clear that there are many of us who do feel empowered to make our voices heard when discussing financial matters. Unfortunately, there are still many others who don’t.

I have seen this dynamic play out throughout my career. Regardless of age or income bracket, too many women still feel silenced when it comes to discussing important financial topics.

It’s certainly not that women don’t have a point of view or an interest in discussing money. Of course we do. Many of us are successful business owners and corporate leaders, and have been the breadwinners for our households for a long time. That point no longer needs to be debated.

The good news is that we have a renewed opportunity to reset this gender dynamic. As the world shifts to a “new normal” of connecting virtually, the norms and conventions of how we interact are still being formulated. Many people are still getting a feel for how to act on a video call for example. In other words, they are being cautious and acting on their best behavior as we figure this all out.

For women, this is our opportunity to step forward and reframe the conversation. The following are eight actions we can take to do just that:

Be assertive

Many women have long ago learned that when they are forceful in sharing their points of view they are often labeled with the “b” word. It stings, yes, but enough is enough. We know that label is ludicrous. It’s high time we respond to those petty insinuations with, “Who cares?”

Let them call you names. In reality, those who are threatened by you likely also have a great deal of respect for you (even if they don’t say it.) In the end, that respect will win out. I argue it would be far worse to be called “meek” or “uninspired.”

Speak with conviction

Part of being assertive is not only speaking up, but doing so with authority and without qualifications. Too often, women can come across as apologetic or hesitant when asking questions or offering up ideas. We too often begin with, “Have you considered….” or, “What if we did ….” or, “I think that maybe….”

When we speak that way, we give the impression that we doubt our own ideas. We unwittingly invite others to take ownership of those ideas. Speak with conviction. Don’t hedge or qualify what you have to say.

Strike the word “just” from your vocabulary

Similar to how we can sometimes come across as apologetic, women also too often start sentences with the word “just” as a way to soften our point of view. Why say, “Just listen to this idea I have”? Simply say, “Listen to this idea I have.” It’s more forceful and has more conviction. This is a simple action any of us can take.

Share ideas as they form

Women sometimes hesitate to share ideas until they are fully baked, even in meetings where the explicit intent is to “brainstorm.” We think we have to have a completely thought out idea or recommendation before we open our mouths. We don’t. Ideas are meant to be bounced off others, to be refined and perfected as a group. That is often the whole point of meeting. Don’t muzzle your ideas. Share them as they form.

Speak your mind

At Cresset we have a saying, “Be direct with respect.” What we mean by that is that everyone is encouraged to share their points of view plainly, but with a respectful and inclusive tone. Be direct. Don’t hold back. Ask questions without fear of seeming ill-informed.

Believe in yourself

You know more than you think you do. Believe that. More and more, women are successful business leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs, and investors. We have every bit the ability to discuss financial matters as our male counterparts. No one knows everything of course, but resist the urge to second guess yourself.

Push back

For all your best efforts, there will still be those who dismiss what you have to say, either implicitly or explicitly. Enough. Don’t take it. Defend your ideas and point view. Have the last word. Demand the respect you deserve. This takes courage, but when done so with calm and cool resolve, can immediately reset the dynamic.

Have each other’s backs

When other women are in a meeting with you, be diligent in supporting each other’s ideas and points of view. Speak up if another woman is being dismissed or disrespected, and they will likely do the same for you.

 

 

None of the above recommendations is a panacea of course. The unconscious (and sometimes conscious) biases that exist when men and women meet aren’t going away anytime soon. But we can make meaningful strides, particularly now as we redefine how we connect with one another in a virtual world. Together, we can empower more women to take ownership of their financial futures, one Zoom call at a time.