Redrawing the Picture

| Guest Writer

Picture this–a female staffer to a big-city mayor spends weeks preparing ten roundtable participants for a detailed discussion on economic development issues facing their city. She has one-on-one meetings with each participant to learn about their perspectives. She briefs the mayor on what she’s heard from them and offers potential solutions for him to use to solve the issues at hand. She secures the meeting space. She answers questions from the media on what’s taking place at the meeting. When she and the mayor walk into the meeting, she sees that she’s the only woman there. And no one has even left an empty chair for her to sit in at the table. 

Does this story sound a little familiar to you? Most women have a story (or two!) where they’ve been the only woman in a male-dominated environment. My own experience as Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, taught me that a snapshot of one room is often just a microcosm of larger social inequities. She Should Run’s work is vital to redrawing the picture and there are things each of us can do on an individual level to shake up norms as well. 

It’s not easy being the only woman in a room. That dynamic can exacerbate feelings of impostor syndrome, highlight gender bias in behaviors, and frankly, become exhausting to deal with on a day-to-day basis. When you find yourself in a room like this, remember to use your P.O.W.E.R. to show up authentically as a leader and a woman:

P – Preparation

Comedian Steve Martin got it right when he said in an interview, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” That’s good advice, and preparation is a huge part of it. I know I’ve felt more confident and been more effective when I have done my part to prepare for a meeting or a task. Impostor syndrome is also easier to kick when you know you’ve done your homework. This is not to say that preparation completely wipes away gender bias and discrimination, but it does better position you for success in controlling the outcome. For example, being prepared for the substance of a discussion means you’ll have more mental energy to spend during the meeting navigating interpersonal dynamics if you need to. 

O – Ownership

Once you’ve done the hard work of preparation, you’re better able to own the room–no matter who else is in it. She Should Run focuses specifically on executive presence as a tool that can help you communicate with authority and own the moment. Blending the three components of executive presence will help you control the outcomes of any situation. Those components are:

1) Physical presence – Whether we want to admit or not, people notice our physical presence first. Consider how to balance showing up in a way that is authentic to your values and also sends the signal that you mean business. 

2) Communication presence – Did you know that studies suggest that 90% of communication is conveyed through body language? That means effective leaders understand how their body language can help or hinder their goals. I’ve had to work hard not to play with my hair while I talk!

3) Emotional presence – How do you react when a situation gets contentious or just plain difficult? Managing your own emotions and carefully navigating other people’s emotions establishes you as a leader who can roll with whatever is thrown at her.   

W – Wisdom

It’s empowering to gain wisdom about yourself, other people, and different situations and systems. You can get this wisdom from a book, a network of people, and managing through positive and negative experiences. In my own experience, wisdom tends to arrive hand-in-hand with experience. For example, I became more confident in my own communications skills as I managed more high-profile political communications crises. We all tend to feel more confident when we’re not navigating new territory. 

E – Energy

Being the only woman in the room is emotionally taxing, often leaving us feeling depleted. It’s important to determine what things, people, and places give you energy. Is it spending time with family and friends? Enjoying quiet time alone reading? Be honest with yourself about what activities and people fill your tank, and then incorporate them regularly into your journey. Having a full tank helps keep us centered and ready to take on whatever comes our way. 

R – Respect

If Aretha sang about it, then it’s definitely worth focusing on here. Self-respect can be learned–and improved. Not all of us are born with it or have as much of it as we need. Critical parts of self-respect are knowing your values (and what you simply won’t tolerate) and being aware of your strengths and weaknesses. 

Respecting others is the basis for forming networks that can broaden your perspective and, ultimately, help you become a better leader. Approaching everyone with respect is necessary to develop meaningful relationships–and it’s the right thing to do. Modeling the behavior you expect from others is good for every room in which you could find yourself. 

So many women can see pictures of themselves in rooms where they’re the “only one.” These images exist in their minds because they are real life for many of us. She Should Run is working to redraw that picture throughout our government. How will you use your P.O.W.E.R. to redraw it in your community? 

Joni Wickham is the co-founder of Wickham James Strategies & Solutions. If you liked this discussion of P.O.W.E.R., you might love her book, The Thin Line Between Cupcake and Bitch.

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