As much as we wish it weren’t the case, for women in the workplace, it’s harder for you to get your idea heard and supported by your manager than it is for your male colleagues. As a point of reference, a study published by researchers from Harvard, MIT and the Wharton School found that women pitching the same idea to venture capitalists got less funding than men.
The same bias can often permeate the corporate workplace, where as Time Magazine recently observed, women are often “man-terrupted” or their idea is claimed by a man. Further, according to an important 2011 study by McKinsey & Co, “women are often evaluated for promotions primarily on performance, while men are often promoted on potential.” So in a world where men earn opportunity based on what they could achieve, women are much more likely to have face a higher bar when presenting ideas to their managers.
Yet, these negative trends are no reason to give up the good fight! We believe that women can and should successfully pitch ideas to their boss and management. To increase your odds of success, there are several steps you should take:
1. Be Your Own Publicist
Every work day, whether you are ready to pitch an idea or not, you are laying the groundwork for how your idea will be received. As the Atlantic reported in 2013, a study revealed that “women were unlikely to take credit for their role in group work in a mixed-gender setting unless their roles were explicitly clear to outsiders.”
It’s unlikely that anyone else will truly highlight and champion your contributions, so you should be sure to do it yourself. If you are uncomfortable touting them explicitly — as many women are — a subtle but effective way to make sure you claim credit for your accomplishment is to create a recap report or email that you share with key stakeholders about a project’s success. Highlight what your project achieved with a focus on metrics, and be sure to include a list of a project team. Be sure to give credit to everyone who was involved, but make sure your name is on the top of the list!
2. Make your Pitch Bulletproof
It’s unfortunate but extremely likely that your proposal for an idea will be subject to greater scrutiny than a man’s would be. So the best way to address that bias is with due diligence and over-preparation in perfecting your pitch. Find a mentor or advisor who you respect, and ask him or her to poke holes in your thesis and ask you hard questions. That way you will be prepared for whatever questions get fired your way. And, your work will probably be stronger for it too.
The other reason to ask for colleagues' feedback on your plan is that it's more likely you will credit for it, should for some reason you present the idea and someone else ends up being associated with the notion. You want to have as many people understanding that this was your idea and invested in your idea's success. People who felt that they were part of your plan or proposal will feel more invested in it's success if they participated in hatching it.
3. Be a Team Player
One way that women often outshine men is through EQ and their ability to listen to their colleagues. Use this as a competitive advantage by running your idea by colleagues you trust and respect — at all levels — to get their input and buy-in. If there is a groundswell of support for your idea, it is more likely to get approved. And as a bonus, more people will know that the idea was yours — so it is less likely that someone else will steal it.
But what if you prepared diligently, presented the idea in a group setting and someone else ends up getting most of the air-time on the topic (because for example, they were very excited about it or proposed a variation on the same idea)?
Being a team player means pushing forward with your idea even if it's modified or involves working under someone else to get the proposal executed. This does not mean, however, that you have to sit idly back while someone takes undue credit for your work. There are subtle but important ways to emphasize that you laid the groundwork for a modified plan or did background research without seeming like you're just trying to "hog" the credit. Publicly acknowledging the other person's contribution and help for your idea is a friendly -- but also powerful -- way of making sure everyone remembers where credit is due.
4. Get specific
This is not the time to dream or be vague. Your pitch should be on paper (or at least on a screen!), and be highly specific with clear objectives and a timeline. I’m a particular fan of the 30-60-90 day plan because the more tangible you can make your proposal through every step of its life-stage, the more your manager is likely to be able to envision what you’re trying to accomplish and support your ambition. Further he or she is more likely to feel like a part of the process.
5. Take Responsibility
Nothing will gain your manager’s support more than if you’ve mapped out optimistic but achievable performance metrics for your idea. When presenting your expected results, it is important to walk him or her through the math and assumptions that got you to them. If your boss can see the outcome of the idea on paper - and see your confidence in committing to these numbers - he or she is much more likely to support the idea.
6. Pitch it again (and again)
One of my favorite bosses used to say, “Every sale starts with no.” The same is absolutely true of internal pitches. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t win support for your idea on the first try. Ask your manager for specific feedback, and go back and do more homework to address his or her concerns. Come back two weeks later, and try again. Nothing will show your boss how committed you are to the idea - and confident you are of its success - than your willingness to pitch it multiple times. While these steps may feel involved and onerous, the reality is that they will not only help win your idea more support, they will also ensure greater success for your idea when it is eventually improved. You will have put yourself through the paces to give yourself and those around the confidence to belief that you can and will lead the project to success.
A version of this article was originally published on Career Contessa by Romy Newman.
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