Are women being heard in the work place?

How to use your voice so that people listen.

By Ally Yates, author of Utter Confidence:
How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business

Rebecca, a young engineer recently asked me the question: ‘How do I raise my profile in meetings?’ She had recently gone through the annual appraisal process where the feedback from her boss was: ‘You don’t say enough in meetings, you need to contribute more.’

It may be a generalisation but it seems that often women do not participate as fully meetings, particularly in industries that are traditionally male-dominated.




I worked with Rebecca on the top strategies for making your voice heard in meetings:

  1. Be selective – Skilled performers know when best to contribute as well as how best to contribute. They have a sense of timing that ensures they contribute without being disruptive. This strategy appealed to Rebecca’s cautious approach whilst emphasising the importance of saying something and making her presence felt.
  2. Be concise – Teams and groups that work well tend to share the distribution of airtime with no one person dominating more than another. A big contributor to this efficiency is the ability to ‘get in’ to the conversation, say what you need to say and then ‘get out’. Being mindful of your personal style and the levels of participation across the group are fundamental to improving your performance and the success of the group.
  3. Vary your contributions – The default inputs in meetings fall into a category of behaviour known as Giving Information. This includes making statements of fact and giving an opinion or reasons. Research into effective meetings behaviours has revealed a number of more effective alternatives, some of which are outlined below:
  4. Summarising – If, like Rebecca, you don’t have anything to add to the subject under discussion, you can help the entire meeting by summarising key points at regular intervals. In studies on skilful behaviours across a range of work situations, summarising regularly shows up as a helpful, yet still relatively uncommon, behaviour
  5. Labelling – A behaviour label is a device which announces the behaviour that you’re going to use next. For example: ‘Can I just ask a question?’, followed by a question, or ‘I’d like to add some information here’, followed by giving information. Labelling helps to command the attention of other people and creates space for you to say your piece.
  6. Shutting Out – Sometimes, to get into a conversation you have to steal the airtime from another person. To start, it may be helpful to use a non-verbal indication that you want to get in to the discussion.  You can lean forward, indicate with your hand, nod with your head and/or make eye contact with the speaker or the chairperson in a way that communicates ‘I have something to say’.
  7. Building – This is a behaviour used by the most skilful individuals. Building behaviour is defined as ‘adding to or modifying a proposal or suggestion made by another person’.  In a meeting this might sound like:
    Proposal: I’d like to spend some time looking at those figures
    Build: Maybe we could get Sam to talk you through them
  8. React – Reacting behaviours are the way we let other people know how we respond to what they have said. The two most common reacting behaviours are Supporting and Disagreeing. If you have a low count on both these behaviours you may be what the researchers call a ‘Low Reactor’. Such a person can often have a negative or destabilising effect on a group because others find it hard to judge where they’re coming from. If Rebecca fell into the Low Reactor trap it could lead to people being suspicious of her behaviour. So rather than set the group on edge, use Supporting and Disagreeing as a way of being heard. When you like an idea or agree with something someone has said, say so.  When you aren’t convinced, let people know.
  9. Ask questions – If there was one mantra I would like to resonate around the walls of corporate meeting rooms, it’s this: Give less, Ask more, Ask better. The intent is to help you build your interactions around inquiry. Being curious rather than judgmental is one of the most powerful ways to ensure you are heard and to build the relationships that will help you towards success.

Building her awareness of these tactics and taking opportunities to practice has helped Rebecca build new behavioural muscle. Much of what she’s learned has not only helped her voice to be heard in meetings, but also in one to one interactions and negotiations. She has raised her skill level and her profile.



Ally Yates is author of ‘Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business’ and an expert on Behaviour Analysis and the interactions that define us. She combines a deep understanding of people and how to achieve results, based on her many years’ experience working with large corporate clients around the world.

Since 2000 Ally has been working as an independent consultant, facilitator, trainer and coach. She has collaborated with international business schools and has received national and international training awards.

Ally’s approach is grounded in a sound understanding of theory, trends and practice in learning and development, business development and leadership development. Clients value her insights, pragmatism and influence.

She is passionate about family, rugby union, travel and learning.





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