The past years have seen a big cultural shift in how we view workplace equity for women. Social movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and #TimesUp have drawn attention to toxic work environments that were unhealthy and downright dangerous. The pandemic further exposed many of the systemic cracks that women often fall into when support is inadequate.
New conversations around parental leave, affordable childcare, racial equity and salary transparency have built new pressure, and some companies are starting to examine ways to deliver on these things. As women return to the workforce and continue to speak up for the changes they need, and as employers acknowledge that women’s contributions are valuable and deserving of active support, we could see real results.
It’s heartening to view some progress on these issues. Yet there is another one that remains resistant to change. It’s something that plagues women in almost every industry and often appears as an additional layer of workplace discrimination that women face as they move through their career journey. I’m talking about ageism.
So many women work hard on their careers, putting in decades of sweat and dedication, only to find that once they reach a certain point, the door is closed to their contributions. This is ridiculous for reasons which are obvious to anyone over 40. More experience generally equals more thorough work, better resilience and a greater perspective on everything from industry trends to workplace productivity.
Many of my older clients are suddenly facing the challenge of ageism just as they are coming into a new era of career confidence. They are frustrated with the way gatekeepers (who are often younger and less experienced) diminish their value. Just when they’re ready to leap forward, they’re told they’ll likely have to take a step back.
Pushing back on ageist attitudes and standing up for your hard work requires a dedicated strategy. Relying on others to speak up for us isn’t enough. The number one way I coach my clients is to start advocating for their workplace values and their distinctive strengths with clear, confident language.
I call this your “personal power pitch.”
Your personal power pitch is a powerful tool that you can use to counteract ageist attitudes that may come up during performance reviews, job interviews and any other career changes. Your PPP should make your value crystal-clear to anyone who hears it.
Here’s how to create your personal power pitch.
Make a thorough list of your skills, knowledge, expertise and wisdom. Write down examples of each one and be as detailed as you can. Don’t just quote from your resume or LinkedIn profile. Craft compelling stories you can tell when the time comes. Then, edit these stories down to reflect your highest abilities and confidence in the face of high-pressure situations. Don’t worry about sounding arrogant. Taking some pride in your work is appropriate at this stage of your career. Remember, you want to be known as someone with powerful wisdom about your role, field and industry—which is worth its weight in gold if you can articulate it properly.
Choose a trusted friend or colleague and ask them to review your list and your anecdotes. Don’t just ask for their opinion. Be specific about the kind of feedback you’re looking for. Tell them you want to come across as skilled, confident and wise, and that you want your value to be clear. Take their response with a grain of salt; no one knows better than you what your best work self sounds like, so don’t give their feedback too much power. Make any of the suggested changes that feel right to you, and leave the rest.
Now that you’ve got a good version of your personal power pitch to work with, start practicing. Open your calendar and create three 30-minute practice sessions per week for six weeks. Spend the first five minutes warming up your power voice by lightly singing or humming your favorite songs. Then, do 10 minutes of reading out loud from a novel or article. After that, you can practice your power pitch. Record your sessions and listen back for things like pacing, enunciation and confidence. Work with a good coach to strengthen your power voice and make your power pitch as impactful as it can be.
Whatever we do, and however we present ourselves, we must come from a place of power, not fear. Taking time to craft, practice and deliver our personal power pitch can help us stay grounded and take control of our career narrative when the time comes—and when we need to conquer workplace discrimination once and for all.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Alicia Dara is a nationally recognized speech and presentation coach based in Seattle. She has helped thousands of people including CEO’s, Global VPs, Executive Directors and Presidential candidates break through blocks, find their Power Voice, and put it to work. Her most popular group training is "Power Voice for Career Women", which helps women strengthen their voices, clarify their messaging, and push back against workplace sexism. In 2020 Alicia signed with the Carol Mann Agency for literary representation and is currently working on her first book about strengthening women’s voices in the workplace.