I was in a meeting recently and the age-old question arose, “so, who will take the minutes?”  And just like that…crickets.  That beautiful, awkward silence where everyone is purposely praying for someone else to volunteer. 

I am frequently in meetings where I am the only female.  And over many years I have observed behaviors of successful people.  I have worked in a male dominated industry for over two decades, and I often get asked advice, particularly from younger women, about the keys to success.  That is maybe a topic for a whole book, but let’s look at what you can do today to ensure you are heard and taken seriously in a business meeting context.

1. Don’t make the coffee

Unless it is part of your job description, don’t make coffee for anybody.  AND don’t ask anyone else to make your coffee.  Women naturally want to nurture with a small gesture such as making a coffee, but this can seriously send the wrong signal.  Same goes for taking minutes of a meeting (or any other task which is typically typecast to females).  Unless you are the person with whom this arrangement was previously made, follow the lead of other participants.  Don’t make eye contact with the Chairperson.  Keep your head down.  Don’t make any sound or sudden movement.

Very few meetings have the privilege of a good chairperson.  A good Chairperson will, amongst other things, ensure that all participants are heard, but will also ensure that there is already someone there to take the minutes. 

If the Chairperson asks you in front of others, graciously oblige.  However, consider to approach the Chairperson afterwards with a polite suggestion that next meeting should be someone else’s turn.

2. Learn about body language

I have been witness very often to the poor body language of women in a meeting context.  Sitting back in their chairs, legs crossed, hands held on their lap – demure and quiet.  Please do the opposite.  Take charge of your space at the table.  Have your laptop, notebook, whatever.  That space at the table in front of you is yours.  Lean forward when you have something to say.  Put your hands on the table.  Learn about hand gestures to ensure you get your say.  I am NOT saying to raise your hand like at school.  What I mean is, use gestures like placing your flat hand face down on the table outwards from your body signalling to the Chair that you have a contribution to make.

3. Use your voice

Given that you are at the meeting means that someone, somewhere acknowledges that you have input to the content of that meeting.  So use the opportunity.  By all means, don’t say words just for the sake of speaking.  But do ensure that you are heard.  Again, a good Chairperson will ensure that everyone at the table has had their opinion heard, but in my experience, having a good meeting Chair is like experiencing exceptional customer service.  If you have valuable input, speak up.  If the conversation is moving on from a point of relevance for you, interrupt.  Use phrases like “excuse me, I have something to offer to the topic of x before we move on”.  It is totally possible to interrupt someone, or a group of people, with politeness.

Equality in the workplace has come a long way over the last century but there is still work to be done.  Try out these tips and let me know your experiences.