One of my clients is experiencing a professional obstacle that is all too common. Susan is a passionate, driven, high-performing leader. She often has a seat at the table with other company leaders. However, she feels that although she has a seat, she does not have a voice. Susan’s often interrupted at meetings. Her contributions are brushed off or worse. Sometimes her ideas are ignored only to be repeated by a colleague the next day or even 15 minutes later, at which point they’re enthusiastically embraced by the team.

Behaviors like this can be described as micro-inequities, a term coined by MIT professor, Mary Rowe, in 1973. Micro-inequities are small, subtle behaviors that overlook, single out, or discount someone, often based on unconscious bias against characteristics such as race and gender. Now it’s not up to Susan to rewrite her colleagues’ unconscious biases. It is the job of everyone in the company to create a more inclusive environment. However, there are things Susan can do to take back power in the situation. These are steps that you can take too if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

1. Change your mindset about bragging. Susan has accomplished extraordinary things with her team, but that doesn’t necessarily mean other leaders know what she’s done. Without that established credibility her colleagues may not be eager to hear her ideas. So I asked Susan why she hasn’t shared her successes with other leaders. “Well, I’m British,” she responded. “I don’t want to brag.” Being uncomfortable bragging or self-promoting can be tied to cultures as well as gender. Studies often find that women find it more difficult to tout their achievements than men do, even at the senior level.

If self-promotion feels uncomfortable, change your mindset about it. You are doing more than promoting yourself. You’re promoting your team. Instead of bragging, frame it this way. I’m sharing the team’s accomplishments, so we can build on this momentum to push things forward, so it benefits the entire company. If you take the focus off of yourself and onto the organization, you may feel more confident promoting your achievements. Share best practices of how you and your team serve customers, increase revenues, and benefit the organization.

2. Get buy-in from key stakeholders. Susan often feels like the lone wolf in the boardroom. I recommended that she builds alliances with the colleagues with shared values and interest, so they can support her when she speaks up and vouch for her value. When President Obama took office, 2/3 of his top aides were men. His female aides complained of being ignored and talked-over during meetings, so they adopted a strategy. When a woman offered an idea or insight, other women would repeat what she said making sure to attach her name to the idea as well. This strategy, which they named amplification, forced the men in the room to recognize the contributions of their female colleagues and give them credit. If Susan gets buy-in from key stakeholders in her company, she can have her own amplification system.

3. Look at your own subconscious behaviors. Micro-inequities are behaviors delivered and perceived at a subconscious level. But Susan was also communicating subconscious messages that were holding her back. First, we analyzed her patterns of speech. At the senior level, executives prefer communication that is brief, succinct, and to the point. Susan’s technical background cultivated a way of communicating that was much more thorough, detailed, and lengthy. We worked on refining her messages to be succinct and to the point. It makes it easier for others to receive and appreciate her messages.

Secondly, we looked at her nonverbal communication. Was she sitting upright, with open body language, projecting ease and confidence? Where she sat in the room also sent a message. So when people sit in an outer ring, away from the seats at the conference table, or off in a corner, they communicate that they’re outsiders and they’re difficult to hear and see. I encouraged Susan to position herself in the center sending the subconscious message that she not only belongs, she deserves to have the attention of the entire room.

In summary, here are three things that you can do to combat micro-inequity at work.

1. Change your mindset about bragging.
2. Get buy-in from key stakeholders
3. Look at your own subconscious behaviors.

We cannot change the subconscious biases and behaviors of others, but we can control the image that we project, our mindset, and having the confidence that we deserve a place and a voice at the table.


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This video was originally posted on AthenaOnline.com