I sometimes joke at InkHouse that we have affirmative action for men. It’s widely known that women dominate the PR industry, and the numbers confirm it. Forbes notes that back in 2010, women accounted for 73 percent of the 21,000 PRSA members. Another number attributed to my alma mater, Syracuse University, shows that women account for 85 percent of the industry.
Even so, upper management is still the domain of men (80 percent), as Ken Makovsky pointed out in the aforementioned Forbes piece. That’s better than the Fortune 500’s record where women hold only 4.2 percent of CEO positions (Catalyst).
Don’t worry. This is not another piece about the glass ceiling. It’s about what women in PR can do right now to improve their odds of getting to the top. Lots of big things need to change, but while we’re waiting, we can help ourselves by, well, being ourselves.
Some have suggested that we should become sports fans or collectively agree on a more uniform workplace attire. Perhaps the shift dress so elegantly worn by Robin Wright as Claire Underwood on Netflix’s “House of Cards” would do the trick? If you authentically like sports, great. And if you feel confident in a shift dress, wear it. If you don’t, leave them behind. Being confident in the workplace has a lot more to do with knowing and using your own style and talents than changing them to suit others.
I believe that confidence comes from two things: deliberateness and practice. No one is born confident, but we can employ strategies that help us get there. Try one of Amy Cuddy’s power poses before your next meeting. My personal favorite is the Wonder Woman.
So while we work to change the socioeconomic issues holding back women’s advancement in the workplace, we need to find a way to succeed in a world where our clients and bosses are likely going to be male.
Use Meetings Wisely
It starts with first impressions, which are made in seconds, and based predominantly on non-verbal queues. Walk into a room like you belong there – smile, hold your head up, make eye contact and offer a firm handshake. Then show them why you are there. If you save your ideas for post-meeting emails to your boss, you are giving away your seat at that table. Remember that the way you articulate your ideas matter. Speak recommendations as statements, not questions. If your voice goes up at the end of a statement, it sounds like a question and conveys uncertainty. And make those recommendations count through discernment. Take time to understand your boss, and your workplace. Brainstorming sessions are ripe for creative long shots, but when it’s time to make important decisions, know the difference and bring your thoughtful recommendations.
Be Purposeful with Words
We’re all tempted to write “I think” at the beginning of an email when we’re unsure of the recipient’s reaction. However, if you simply state your recommendation as though it is fact, others will consider it more seriously. In meetings and in writing, find a way to say it your way. Your boss or a colleague might tell you what you should say. Listen and take careful notes, then make the points the way you would. No one appears confident when they are parroting another person.
Know How to Use Silence
It’s hard to be comfortable with silence, but it can be a powerful tool. After articulating a recommendation, let the idea percolate. Don’t fill that thinking space with chitchat. Then listen to people’s responses. Are they confused, interested, distracted? Base your next statement on their cues, not the thought you’ve been waiting to share.
Practice and Prepare
Everyone is nervous when they speak in front of a large room. So practice. Ask to present something to your company at the next meeting. The only way to keep that warmth from coming up your neck and into your face is to do it over and over again. Part of that practice is knowing your stuff. Knowledge also confers authority onto your recommendations, so do your research first! Eventually, you will be so comfortable that you won’t need to rehearse.
Know How to React
PR is fraught with rejection. Learn which criticisms to take seriously because upward mobility requires a focus on the things that matter without the distraction of the things that don’t. A thick skin will also help you ease away from the need for constant feedback. Learning to trust your gut at work will help you become comfortable with your own assessments. If the meeting felt good to you, it probably was. And finally, a thick skin will help you know how to use apologies affectively. Apologize only when you have done something wrong, not because someone doesn’t like your idea. You only have to own the mistakes you actually make.
Beth Monaghan is principal and co-founder of InkHouse Media + Marketing, a PR and content marketing agency with offices in the Boston area and San Francisco. She blogs about PR and content at InkLings and you can find her on Twitter @bamonaghan.