The workplace cloak of invisibility. Super power or super annoying?

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“Only she who can see the invisible can do the impossible”

I recently wore a bright red dress to a photo shoot, I coupled it with red nails and killer heels. I was far from invisible and that was kind of the point. I wanted to stand out in the picture, I wanted the color red to show my confidence and belief in my abilities to coach other strong women.

A client complimented on the red dress and how I looked in the images and then said ‘I could never wear a dress like that at work, I would stand out too much’.

Honestly, this shocked me. My client is strong, confident and successful, yet she wanted to remain invisible at the same time.

This got me thinking. 

Do women really want to be invisible in the workplace? Do we subconsciously make the effort to be seen but not heard?

SEE no EVIL, Hear no EVIL.

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As women, we still seem to have an issue with speaking up. We fear being judged, being deemed too assertive or aggressive. Women associate these labels with negative thoughts and feelings. Our femininity ultimately governs the need to be collaborative and a team player, authority does not necessarily come naturally to us! 

The realities are; This ‘no authority’ thought pattern is in our genes, we cannot help but shy away from showing and embracing authority. Honestly, how do you feel when you have been authoritative? Do you feel guilty and have this burning desire to say sorry?!

A recent example of not speaking up;

A client of mine who is a successful copywriter had an important presentation with a client, the presentation was for a beauty product for men. She knew she needed to come across with authority and assertiveness in the presentation. 

The product was egocentric so she needed to step up to this role, she had been working on the tagline and brand for nearly two months, she knew she could step up and present the concept.

However, in the internal prep meetings prior to the presentation, she kept quiet, she did not speak up about her abilities to present. For some reason, her fear of coming across too aggressive and assertive stopped her. 

Her colleague, Cliff made all the right noises in all the right places and even though he was not as qualified as her, the boss decided that Cliff should lead the presentation. 

On one hand, you could say the company was putting their right foot forward in using Cliff for this presentation; he’d earned it. My client forfeited her chance to shine and win a new contract, all because she wore the cloak of invisibility.

FACE of an ANGEL - STING of a WASP

When you think about it, what does being assertive really mean? Is it deemed a negative emotion for women to display in the workplace? 

Too often, an assertive woman will come across as aggressive. Yet there’s a way to not fall in this trap-Assertiveness is about speaking up and being able to make others feel heard. Assertiveness is also that internal voice, that allows you to exude confidence and make others around you feel reassured.

Can you believe - Men were found to talk as much as 75% of the time in meetings, compared to women’s 25% and it is often perceived if a man talks over you, he’s being a man? If a woman talks over you, she’s perceived as bossy and aggressive.

How not to be ‘manterrupted’......

Here are the top 5 tips I give my clients who struggle to remove their cloak of invisibility within the workplace.

1. Body Language 

I cover the importance of body language in my book Know your worth, Get your worth. It’s true that without even realizing it we often make ourselves seem smaller, hunching our shoulders down or folding our arms. Think about it, what does this kind of body language look like from across the boardroom? Try using your hands when talking, sit up straight and make yourself seem bigger than you are. Stand if you need to, put on a pair of heels BUT use your body to appear assertive.

2. Tone of Voice

The tone of your voice can make a difference. In politics, women use voice coaches to appear assertive and confident. Men naturally have deeper, assertive tones. Whereas we have to work at it, let’s face it no one wants to sound like Spongebob Squarepants! First, find your center of gravity, drop your shoulders, raise your head and tilt on your feet until you come to a natural rest, with arms hanging loosely by your sides. When your body is relaxed and your feet are firmly planted on the ground, you will then be better able to project your voice.

3. Keep it real

Have you ever found yourself acting a certain way to fit into a male-dominated meeting? We seem to turn into statues and shut down our body language so as not to give anything away. We are so determined not to show a chink in our armor. To some, it can come across as po-faced, not caring or even being present. Show the real you, people don’t like people they can’t read. You do not need to mimic a man, find your authentic self. A proud, confident woman.

4. Eye Contact

If you have kids, you only need to look at them when they have acted out and they can tell from your eyes - your annoyed. Well, it is the same in the workplace. One of the most powerful aspects of nonverbal communication is eye contact. We all know how hard it is to have a conversation with someone who avoids your eyes! People who maintain eye contact are generally perceived as being reliable, honest and confident. A lack of eye contact shows the total opposite.

5. Use your cloak

Sometimes it will play in your favor to know when to keep quiet and remain invisible. OK, I am not trying to confuse you with this one, but knowing when to use your cloak of invisibility can also be a skill. For example; You are sat in a meeting and your colleagues are talking over each other, desperate to be heard. You, however, are sat quietly taking it all in and watching your boss’s body language. He is irritated no one is listening and you can see this. You wait until the meeting is over, remove your cloak and pitch your idea and thoughts to him, he will appreciate it and will probably listen to you more too.

Are you a Sheep or a Lion?

Have you noticed how sheep follow each other? When one runs the others follow. When one decides to ‘baahhh’ so do the others. On the other hand, lions are assertive, independent and sure of themselves. Now, who would you prefer to be?

We should no longer settle for being part of the behind the scenes that help our male colleagues look good and excel. We need to actively pursue top leadership positions in the same way that men do. We should encourage each other to step out of the shadows and start strategically expressing our abilities and contributions in ways that clearly signal to those in power that they have what it takes to command top leadership positions

Olivia Jaras