Ask A Feminist: I’m being ignored in meetings

Meeting rooms and auditorium, via Fellmannia Flickr photostreamThanks to the wonders of Twitter, my team of feminists willing to answer your questions has been expanded. If you have a question, please get in touch. We only have a few more questions to answer so will be needing more by the time it gets to summer. Also, if you have an additional response to any of the questions covered, feel free to add them in the comments. There is no single way to be a feminist so more perspectives are welcomed! This month’s question is: Can you offer any practical advice to women on what to do when male clients are ignoring you in a meeting?

Feminist #1 – Melaina
I guess it depends how they are ignoring you. I would assert your opinions and ask a colleague if they agree with you. If it is a persistent thing where you are being dismissed in a “go make us some tea love” type of way, I’d speak with your manager or HR about it. Sexism isn’t okay from staff or clients.

Feminist #2 – Karen
I found this difficult to answer, because my initial response might be to assume what I was saying was wrong or not interesting, rather than that he was ignoring me because I’m a woman. That might occur to me later and then I would have some really clever retort once it’s too late. So, I think my advice would be to be well-prepared, because if you know your stuff then you can speak up with confidence, and at least then you’re in a position to challenge the sexism. Hopefully someone else has some idea how that might be done…

Feminist #3 – Girl on the Net
I’ve been in this position before, earlier in my career, although I suspect it was less to do with sexism and more the fact that people thought I was too young/inexperienced to be of any use in the meeting. Whatever the reason, though, it can be extraordinarily difficult to put your opinion across if you’re repeatedly ignored, and incredibly frustrating if you know what needs to be done but can’t get a word in edgeways. I’d suggest two options, depending on how confident you are:

  1. Speak up – as much and as often as you can. Remember that you’re in the meeting for a reason: you have skills and expertise that are useful to that client, so make sure they get the full benefit of them. The more you speak, the harder it is for them to ignore you.
  2. Talk to your colleagues outside the meeting. If they’ve noticed it too, chances are they’re annoyed with the client as well. In the past I’ve made specific arrangements with colleagues on who is going to ‘lead’ a particular meeting. That way your colleague can ensure they defer to you as much as possible to help emphasise to the client that they really need to listen to you. I did this once, when an external team had a tendency to ignore me because of my age (or the fact that I didn’t hold the budget) and a senior colleague got so frustrated with people directing all their questions to her she basically just said “look, I’m only here to learn, it’s X who actually knows the answers.” I’ve used this technique the other way round too – when helping junior colleagues get their points across in meetings/presentations where otherwise people would just have spoken to me. It’s amazing the power of “I’m going to pass that question onto X, if you don’t mind” – an immediate transfer of authority, and a subtle way of saying “shut up and listen because this person has something important to say.”

This seems like a cop-out answer, and my inner feminist is screaming and stamping as I write this, shouting “just tell the client to FUCK OFF”, which would be incredibly satisfying. But realistically, I think if you want to keep the client and your job, subtle challenges are the best way to go – they’re also most likely to have that client coming to you in future with all his questions, as he realises you’re the person who can help. And perhaps in the next meeting he’ll listen to everyone.

Feminist #4 – Claire
This has happened to me more than once and it is really disheartening. Try to remain calm and confident – even if you are raging inside! Demonstrate that you know what you are talking about and try to engage directly with the men who are ignoring you both in the meeting itself and by following up with them afterwards. In my experience once male clients realise that you are actually really good at what you do they will start to respect you and interact with you in a normal way. If this doesn’t have any kind of effect on the way they are treating you then I would always recommend discussing the issue with your line manager – you don’t have to make a big deal out of it but if there is a poor relationship between you and a client then it’s not good for the whole organisation.

Finally, please don’t get demoralised by this or let affect your confidence – I realise this might be easier said than done but you are in your position because you are good at your job and because you’ve worked hard to get there.

Feminist #5 – Alison
You are no different from the other male members of your team and should be regarded as such. Even repeat that to yourself when you are dealing with the difficult client. This will enable you to get your focus and level yourself. Be prepared and informed for your meetings with this client. If, the client continues to dismiss you and the information you provide, step it up and approach your superior. They put you in this position and they know how good you are at your job!

Feminist #6 – Feminist Cupcake
Unfortunately, we absolutely live in a world where there are times women still need to make it clear who they are and why they are the most qualified person for the job. In a situation like this I advise you to stay calm, and claim your authority. Phrase your statements by acknowledgeing your accomplishments and successes. For example, if you were a real estate agent or broker you might begin by saying, “Last year when I successfully sold six million dollar properties, the advertising strategy I used was…”

If claiming your authority doesn’t work – then perhaps your time and expertise would be better spent working with a different client. If you can’t distance your self from the client because you work in a situation where you are not the boss be sure to express the client’s disregard of your opinion to those that manage you. You don’t want to lose your job when you knew the situation wasn’t well handled but the client wouldn’t trust you.

Finally, don’t get discouraged by this. We are still in the process of changing perceptions and arguably, our daughters will face less sexism than we do – just as we face less sexism then our mothers did. Good Luck Out There – Keep Being Awesome.

Image via the Fellmannia Flickr photostream.

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