Articles // February 17,2023

How can women have difficult conversations in the workplace?

By Meenakshi Girish, Editor: Chandrani Datta

Having difficult conversations can be challenging for anyone, but women often face additional obstacles when it comes to speaking up in professional settings. “The main reason I stopped using my voice in the workplace is that it never brought about change. I was shouting into an endless void that didn’t respond to my cries,” said a female strategist from Asia.

From the gender pay gap to unconscious bias and discrimination, women may feel hesitant to voice their concerns, ask for what they deserve, or stand up for themselves in face of adversity.

Deloitte’s research shows that gender bias in the workplace is still a pervasive issue, with women often facing unconscious bias and microaggressions that can make it difficult for them to be heard and valued.

Fortunately, there are strategies that women can use to have difficult conversations with confidence and clarity. One of the ways that women can combat gender bias is by speaking up and asserting their perspectives and needs. Women who advocate for themselves can help shift the gender narrative and move toward inclusivity.

Embracing change in subtle ways

Here are some tips and perspectives to help working women navigate challenging conversations in the workplace. While some of these tips are for women to soar higher, a few others are for their coworkers and counterparts. How can you help women and support them to ensure mutual growth?

Recognize the value of your perspective.

Women often bring unique perspectives and insights to the workplace, based on their experiences and perspectives. Whether you’re speaking up about a workplace issue or negotiating a salary, it’s important to recognize the value that your perspective brings to the table.

If you’re feeling hesitant or unsure about speaking up, remind yourself that your ideas matter. Your perspective is important and valuable to those who care and understand your value. If they don’t, then you deserve better and are capable of much more!

Practise active listening

One of the keys to having difficult conversations in the workplace is being able to listen actively. This means actively paying attention to the other person’s perspective, showing empathy and understanding, and seeking to find common ground.

By practising active listening, women can create a more constructive and collaborative environment for difficult conversations. Deloitte highlights the importance of building relationships and networks in the workplace as a way for women to have more influence and impact.

By building strong relationships with colleagues and mentors, women can create a support system that can help them navigate difficult conversations and advocate for their needs. Additionally, by building networks and alliances, working women can increase their visibility and influence in the workplace.

Choose the right time and place

When it comes to having difficult conversations in the workplace, timing, and context can be key. It’s important to choose a time and place where you can have a private conversation, without the risk of interruptions or distractions.

Additionally, you may want to choose a time when the other person is likely to be receptive to the conversation. It will ensure a constructive discussion on gender bias in the workplace, rather than when they are already stressed or busy.

Prepare ahead of time

Before having a difficult conversation, it can be helpful to prepare ahead of time. This might involve writing down your key points, rehearsing your talking points, or anticipating potential objections or questions that the other person might have.

By preparing, you can increase your confidence and clarity when having a conversation. You can predict responses and formulate ideas for follow-up questions or potential hiccups along the way.

Use “I” statements

This is the oldest idea in the book, but it is still golden! When having very difficult conversations, it’s important to take ownership of your perspective and feelings. One way to do this is by using “I” statements, which emphasize your own experience rather than attributing blame or judgment to the other person.

For example, instead of saying, “You always interrupt me in meetings,” you might say, “I feel frustrated when I’m interrupted in meetings, and it makes it hard for me to contribute.” Whether these statements are directed to a male employee or a female one, they will leave a lasting impact on them.

Consider getting support

Having difficult conversations in the workplace can be emotionally taxing, and it’s important to prioritize self-care and support. Consider reaching out to a trusted friend or mentor for support, or seeking out resources like employee assistance programs or professional counseling services.

Perhaps you aren’t alone, and many other female employees face the same issues you do at work. You could form a team or sign a petition by involving more people and having tough conversations with them. The idea is that by taking care of your needs, you can build resilience and confidence in the workplace.

With these strategies, women can help create more inclusive and equitable workplaces where their voices are heard and respected.

Let’s value and emphasize the role of women in leadership in creating inclusive workplaces where difficult conversations can happen with respect and empathy. Leaders need to recognize the talent at their workplace and utilize it to the best potential.

They have a responsibility to model more inclusive behaviours and create a culture of emotional and psychological safety. The best workplace is one where employees (both male and female alike) feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their perspectives.

By creating a culture of inclusion, women in leadership can feel more empowered to have difficult conversations and advocate for their needs. And the first step to building such a culture begins here!

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