Finding Your Voice at Work

Ever stop to think about the bad-ass girl bosses of the world and how they’ve come to earn their name and voice?

Think back to your last movie night when you watched Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) direct her fashion empire in Devil Wears Prada. While we didn’t necessarily admire her patronizing style of leadership, what we did like about her was her assertiveness, understanding of her industry, and the clear voice she had within her team and larger company.

But while we admired her confidence and expertise, we didn’t think twice about her journey to becoming such a strong female leader. Even the most outspoken and determined leaders had to start somewhere to find their voice within their company, department, or even the team they work with.

For many young women starting out their careers, this can be especially difficult. They are regularly faced with all kinds of pressures that dictate how they should act in the workplace so that they don’t appear too assertive or too timid amongst their colleagues and superiors.

I’m not going to delve into the systemic challenges and implicit biases experienced by women at work (you can pick up a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for that!), but I will provide three simple tips that can make dealing with these challenges a little easier. These tips have been particularly useful for me. I hope they will be useful for you.

1.  Focus on the content

Work consumes a large percentage of our daily lives, and it’s easy to get caught up in the political, social and emotional sides of the environment. One thing that never fails is to constantly feed and improve your fund of knowledge. This not only includes staying up to date on the latest in your field, but it can also be as simple as being an astute listener in conversations with colleagues, having undivided attention during meetings, and welcoming any insights and advice given by peers and superiors alike. Slowly growing expertise using these simple ways can automatically provide a return on investment through confidence and awareness, which make finding your voice easier.

2. Get used to saying how you feel – in the moment

We’re often advised to think before we speak. While this universal suggestion has its merit, women commonly abuse this recommendation by thinking too much before speaking - preventing them from sharing any of their thoughts at all! Some people choose not to speak up for fear of sounding unintelligent or fear of being confrontational with someone who may have a disagreement with them. Whatever the case may be, fostering a habit of speaking up will allow people to see that you are honest, sincere, reliable when it comes to information, which includes providing accurate and timely feedback. Over time it becomes easier to find your voice if you train yourself to speak up immediately in a conversation (this becomes much easier if combined with Tip #1). Likewise, you will also start to notice that people become more comfortable being an attentive audience to your voice.

3. “Why so serious?” Remain light-hearted, even when speaking your mind

An essential component of Tip #2 is that you maintain emotional intelligence when speaking your mind. One of the ways to strengthen your own voice is by supporting others in sharing their voices with you. Be sure to acknowledge others in discussions, including the points you agree with and/or specific elements you may require clarification on. Remain light-hearted in discussions by offering a smile between sentences (and if the situation permits, add in a relatable or funny comment). Connecting with other individuals on a human level and recognizing others for the value of their thoughts and voice is a key foundation for encouraging reciprocal behavior for others to respond to you in a similar manner.

These three simple tips aim to focus you on a key point: Don’t go to work just to get by, focus on making your mark and making a change in the workplace using your voice. No one strolls into their career as a ready-made Miranda Priestly. However, the hopes are that these tips can empower you to embrace the female boss role models around you, in order to find your own unique voice.  

Yasmine Alsadek is an Operations Manager in the healthcare industry, based in Abu Dhabi. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Business Administration at Northeastern University.