Tips From a 5'-2" Woman on How to Not Be Overlooked

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Shira Abel may be short and she may be a woman, but she never lets those facts let her get drowned out of a conversation. Here are her tips for standing out and getting what you're worth. By Shira Abel (CEO, Hunter & Bard)

I work in the man's world of tech, which is great most of the time. However, even with the most liberal, educated, and well intentioned men, subconscious bias can happen which occasionally results in my voice not being heard. Plus, I’m 5’-2”, which means it can be difficult to be noticed even when I’m in a room of women. I’m small.

To counter this, I draw heavily on advice I received during my MBA at Kellogg-Recanati (the Israeli branch of Kellogg School of Management) where I took a course taught by Maggie Neale, an expert in organizational behavior. Every chance I could I would ask questions on how to handle things in an office as a woman. The advice she gave was enlightening. I’ve implemented everything to the best of my memory and ability.

With that said, keep in mind this was almost five years ago and some of this is paraphrased from memory. Other bits come from my reading over the years, such as Women Don’t Ask, which Neale recommended. However, the examples I give are real and have worked for me. Of course, I’m writing about my own personal experiences; yours might be different. And these are generalities. That means there will be exceptions.

Also, a final caveat: the bulk of my “leaning in” using these strategies was after I had my kids and realized that being a stay-at-home mom just wasn’t going to happen. If we were going to provide anything like I wanted for my boys, I had to work, work hard, and succeed. Yes, I did work and “lean-in” before – but I leaned back during the first few years after having my sons.

How To Be Listened To

I’m obsessed with behavioral economics and I test how physical behavior and words used affect mental states. I've seen that women get dinged as “bitches” when we do verbal male alpha behavior, such as interrupting, talking loudly, or mansplaining. As such, to get men to listen we have to be more covert, meaning using non-verbal cues, such as:

  • Stand up. I was in a meeting just this past week where everyone was sitting down. Two men (both alphas who I adore and are really nice guys) were talking. It was my turn to speak and I was not being heard, forget about listened to. When I had enough, I stood up and the room went quiet. I continued speaking and sat back down.
  • Mom them. Hands on hips, arms out – like a mildly annoyed mom. Many of the things listed to me by Ms. Neale were things I found myself already doing with my sons. I started doing it at work, and it worked. Really well.
  • Soft touch to the shoulder to quiet a man whiles he’s talking when you would like to answer back, but he’s not giving you the chance. This is one to be careful of — it has to be with someone who won’t take it the wrong way and done like a mom to a son. Otherwise it can open a much larger can of worms than it’s worth. I have a good friend who is an uber-alpha male. I’ll call him John. John has no idea how much he dominates a space when he’s in it. It’s not even intentional. One time I sat next to John in a meeting and whenever I could see the leader of the meeting getting annoyed at John’s interruptions, I would gently put my hand on his shoulder and he would stop.
  • Sit down and take up space. About a month ago I was a judge at a startup event. In the judging room everyone was standing and discussing the startups and I wasn’t even noticed, being about a foot shorter than every other judge (all men.) I loudly suggested in a nice friendly tone that we all sit down, and we did. We were then all on the same eye level and I was finally heard.

Asking for What I’m Worth

I might be alone on this one, because it seems most of the women I talk to lately don’t have this problem, but in case you’re like me – here it is. I HATE negotiating in person. Hate it. I would find myself giving more than I should, lowering my price too much and would leave screwed over, angry with myself, and bitter. I found in Women Don’t Ask that women negotiate better for others than they do for themselves. After that I decided I would simply change the way I think about who I’m asking for. I’m not asking for me – I’m asking so I can take care of my sons. And you will NOT hurt my children, so you will pay me what I am worth.

I’ve been doing startup marketing for over 15 years. I’ve doubled revenues of a company while not touching costs. I’ve launched companies and helped numerous others grow. I mentor at all of the top accelerators in Israel, teach marketing for startups at a local college and speak about marketing worldwide. In short, I know my stuff and I’m worth a lot.

Before I read Women Don’t Ask, I also handled negotiations in a different way – I did all financial negotiations via email. I found that I was able to keep all of the complicated emotions I had regarding negotiations at bay and think about my responses better. But now I do them face to face and do the gasp test: If someone doesn’t mildly gasp when I offer a price – I didn’t ask enough.

The Physical Really Can Affect the Mental

My oldest son isn’t shy, but he hated participating in class. He would get embarrassed. (I say he’s not shy because he has no problem sitting in the front row of the class singing. Loudly. On his own. Just because he likes singing. Like I said, not shy.) He has a few learning disorders and was insecure about answering, even when he knew the answer. His teacher spoke to us about it and didn’t know what to do to get him to open up. Then, around that time, I saw the TED talk below:

I decided to test it. I had my boys put their arms up every single morning on the drive to school and repeat after me, “I will pay attention in class.” “I will raise my hand and participate when I know the answer.” “I am capable of doing anything I put my mind to,” etc. Not even a month later my husband got a call from the teacher of My Oldest. She was so excited. He had become a whole different student, participating, studying in class, and paying attention. It was amazing. His grades had gone up as well. Typically by the end of the year he was burnt out because of all the extra work he had to do to just keep up with the class and getting him to do anything was a chore. Now he’s keeping up without extra effort.

Those arms are up every morning. And if I’m nervous before a meeting – I do the same thing.

Women 2.0 readers: How do you ensure your voice is heard?

03667757ae80fef92e47e38669f05779_biggerAbout the guest blogger: Shira Abel is the CEO of Hunter & Bard, a strategic marketing, messaging and branding agency. She has lectured about marketing worldwide at conferences and universities such as the Schulich MBA Program in India, SMX conference in Jerusalem, and the #140 conference in New York. She mentors at the Microsoft Azure Accelerator, the Google Campus Accelerator, Founder Institute, and more. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her Facebook.