Gender discrimination, whether blatantly obvious or tough to call, is real—and it happens everywhere.
Most of the time, people—including women—aren’t even aware of their biases. Years of social preference towards men in the workplace means that many of us carry invisible prejudice. But that doesn’t make it right, and it sure doesn’t make it easy.
How are women supposed to fight these invisible challenges in our workplaces while moving up the ladder? What do we do when we walk into a board room and immediately sense that something is off, as though we’re not being taken seriously?
These three tips will help you understand what’s going on, figure out how to navigate invisible bias and help you take up the space you deserve at work.
1. Ignore it, and do it anyway.
The hard truth is, there’s often nothing you can do about it at the moment, aside from trusting that your gut is giving you correct information. If you’re presenting quarterly stats to a meeting full of men and you feel like nobody’s listening to you, you may be right.
So often we think, “I must be crazy!” or “I’m imagining this.” You’re not. But you’re not going to undo hundreds of years of patriarchy at this March overview, so the only thing you can do is ignore it—and show up with authority, regardless.
2. Build your presence.
Building a powerful presence at work takes time and dedication, especially if you’ve struggled with imposter syndrome or you believe that you’re not a good speaker.
The first thing to do is learn how to physically take up space.
Use body awareness training like yoga or Alexander Technique to learn how to stand with power. You’ll want to make sure that you’re not hunching over trying to minimize yourself. Stand up tall, direct your head to the ceiling, allow your spine to lengthen and your shoulders to relax. This open posture allows for deep breathing, which supports a strong voice and a calm demeanor.
Once your breath runs deep, use it to support a powerful voice, using your optimum pitch. This is the most resonant sound your body can make. Here’s a quick way to find it.
- Stand tall and open and take a deep breath that expands your rib cage.
- As your ribs naturally deflate, allow sound to begin from your diaphragm, not forced, releasing in an “Ahhh” sound.
- Place a hand on your chest and notice the vibrations. This is the resonance you’re looking for.
- Play around with the sound! Try to move the vibrations around, even up to your head, and feel where different pitches resonate the most.
Once you’ve found the most comfortable and the most resonant sound, be sure to use that one when speaking at work. Not only is it the safest way for you to speak without causing vocal damage, but it also carries authority and power to the ears of your listeners.
3. Stay calm.
Not the easiest task, right? Thankfully there’s an easy hack that, when practiced over time, can save you in times of deep stress.
Controlled breathing is when you consciously choose when to breathe. This could look like breathing in for three seconds, holding for three and releasing for six; it could look like boxed breathing, which is breath in for four, holding for four, releasing for four and holding for four. It doesn’t matter how you practice controlled breathing—it only matters that you practice.
When you consciously choose when to breathe, as opposed to doing it on autopilot, you send a signal to your brain that you’re not in stress mode. That stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and you’ll stop shooting the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline into your bloodstream. Those stress hormones are what cause sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, brain fuzz and other things you don’t want to deal with at work.
Take two minutes in the morning and two minutes in the evening, every day, to practice your breathing. Breathe in for three, hold for three and breathe out for six. Over time, your body begins to recognize this pattern and will get you out of stress mode even faster.
Practice this before every meeting, presentation or speech to get yourself into a calm and focused state.
Even though you know you might be fighting against invisible bias, that’s about the only thing you can do—and it’s best to become prepared to fight and take up space. Once you establish yourself as an unflappable authority figure at your workplace and among your colleagues, you’ll slowly notice that the feelings of dread will dissipate. You’ll notice that others are listening to you. Your confidence will increase and you’ll kick your imposter syndrome to the curb—where it belongs.
Megan Hamilton is a speaking, visibility and confidence expert in Kingston, Ontario. She’s a classically trained actor as well as a professional musician with five recordings, having toured across Canada and into the US. You can learn more at www.ubuskills.com.