Speaking Up as a Professional Woman

Photo by Ilyass SEDDOUG on Unsplash
Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash
  1. Stop apologizing. Analysis of the speech patterns of men and women show that women consistently apologize more using phrases such as “I’m sorry, but…” Because assertiveness in women is interpreted as “bitchy” many women overcompensate with apologetic language in order to come across as communal and agreeable, traits that are acceptable for women to display. However, apologizing unnecessarily places women in a subservient position and diminishes their power. Apologize if you are in the wrong, but otherwise state your opinions plainly: “I think…” without the preamble “I’m sorry.”
  2. Build allies. In most situations women do not negotiate as strongly as men. The reason comes back to negative perceptions of women who self advocate. This sort of behavior is seen as being in conflict with feminine ideals. The exception is that women are excellent negotiators when they are negotiating on the behalf of others. This is sometimes referred to as the “mama bear” effect. Therefore aligning with other women with similar interests and speaking up on their behalf can make you more effective at being heard.
  3. Amplify each other. Because speaking up in professional situations is difficult, we must support the women who are doing so. When a female colleague speaks up in a meeting, repeat her idea, stating your agreement or expanding upon it, and verbalizing credit to the woman who originated the idea.



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Jennifer Caputo-Seidler, MD

Jennifer Caputo-Seidler, MD

Hospital medicine physician with a passion for gender equity, narrative medicine, and medical education. jennifermcaputo.com