3 things women do in meetings that are hurting their careers

Meetings can be overwhelming. Even to people who spend the majority of their days in and out of phone calls and boardrooms, it can be difficult to know how to handle yourself in certain situations, especially as you begin to climb the ranks. We’ve taken time to identify 3 common mistakes that women frequently make in meetings, and what to do about them to amplify your career potential.

1. Apologizing

Society has undoubtedly put women in a place to apologize way more frequently than men. Growing up, it is ingrained in their heads not to take up space, and to apologize when something they do offends or causes an adverse reaction. But apologizing insinuates that you did something incorrectly, even if you’re simply saying something like, “Sorry, but I have a meeting I have to go to.” You may be apologizing for cutting the conversation short, but you have things to do and should be able to prioritize your time.

In meetings, a simple “sorry” can indicate that you are somehow a less competent or capable leader. If you’re one of those consistent apologizers, work on replacing your “sorry” with other options. Or, just choose not to replace it. Everyone should work on expunging that word from their daily vocabulary, especially during meetings.

2. Being spoken over

Because of the virtual nature of most meetings these days, it is important to assess the digital landscape as well. Last fall, 45% of female business leaders admitted that it’s hard to get a word in edgewise in virtual meetings, specifically with their male counterparts. The report also revealed that not only are women overlooked and ignored by colleagues way too often in the digital workspace, but their earning and growth potential seems to be taking a hit because of that.

Even before the pandemic started, the Lean.In.org Women in the Workforce 2019 Survey relayed that 50% of women in the workforce have experienced interruptions in meetings and on important calls, compared to only 34% of the male population.

And it can be difficult to want to correct people’s glaring social missteps, especially when it seems you have been doing it repeatedly in a relatively short amount of time. It’s already hard enough to stop people from interrupting your focus while you’re hard at work. But there are some more subtle approaches to take if you are intent on changing mindsets. For example, some people will continue to talk – at the same level they already had been – as if they were never interrupted. This drives home the fact that they are committed to their message, and that no distractions are going to keep them from the task at hand. Often, if this doesn’t work, the next step is to continue speaking, but choose to raise the volume of your voice every time someone disrespects that space again. This is a more aggressive pushback but can be highly effective.

Another more assertive and professional way to approach being interrupted is by simply saying, “Excuse me, but I was speaking.” This (rightfully) puts the ball in the interrupting party’s court to learn a lesson and change their behavior. Accountability at its finest.

3. Taking extensive notes

Next time you’re in a board meeting, pitch meeting, onboarding, or brainstorming session — face-to-face or otherwise — look around at the people in the room. Are the upper-level executives worried about taking notes? Are the other men in the room scribbling furiously into their notebooks or typing up a storm on their computers? Unless it is your job within the company to take notes (as an assistant, secretary, or another administrative job), it is important to remember to be selective about the notes you take in your meeting, if any at all.

In the best scenarios, powerful people have the space to give the presenter their full attention, because they know that body language plays a key role in the success of the venture at hand. Some of the most successful women are active listeners. Coming to the meeting with limited distractions and the ability to look your presenter in the eye can be very reassuring to them that a viable connection is being made, and that their colleagues have heard and understood them. Let the person designated to take meeting notes send you a copy of the minutes after it is over.

Plus, if you have extensive notes on a meeting — including information about parts of the sales funnel, campaign, or client call that don’t pertain to you — then you may be more likely to keep tabs on the success of your coworkers. (Micromanaging is pretty easy to do when you have access to all of the details, even if it’s not something you are naturally inclined to do.)

Determined to become a CEO? Check out these 7 tips, and brush up on your Zoom and in-person meeting skills.