How to gain more visibility at work and in business

“I want women to be seen,” my client shared with me. “So many of these women have worked so hard behind the scenes for so long, and they deserve to be recognized.” This particular client was talking about the work of rural women – women who work largely on farms and small towns, largely in isolation away from the more urban, corporate environment many of us are used to. However, it really got me thinking.

The challenges women face at work to be visible, whether they work for corporate or in small business, still remain. Women face numerous challenges at work, and one of the key obstacles they often encounter is the lack of visibility. What I’d like to explore today are some of the factors getting in the way of women allowing themselves to be seen and speaking up, for increased visibility and success and then I offer you some actionable steps you can take to increase your own visibility and advocate for your ideas, with confidence.


Understanding the visibility challenges women face in the workplace

Women facing visibility challenges at workEven with decades of growth and success with women holding coveted C-suite positions more than ever before in corporate North American history, I speak with women every day who struggle to be heard, to be taken seriously and in truth – to take themselves seriously. It’s not just the microaggressions women face in the workplace – like being talked over, ignored and discredited – women’s desire for flexible work, taking on the option to work from home more than men in an increasingly flexible workplace, coupled with women’s career ambitions all contribute to the challenge of women being visible at work.

And in the case of my client, working in a family business where the husband often takes front stage, the work and dedication behind the scenes often goes unnoticed.

What does this mean for women running their own businesses? It means we’re unpracticed in the art of self-promotion, stepping out from behind the scenes and taking conscious, purposeful action to step into your own spotlight to be visible.


Why women often hold themselves back

Many of the reasons why women may hold themselves back are subconscious. It’s so ingrained in our psyche and cultural upbringing we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Raised as a young woman to hold polite conversation, to not interrupt and to avoid conflict, it can be difficult to now enter a workplace where success – largely defined by men in a male-dominated workplace environment – requires everyone to step up, voice their opinions with confidence and to stand ground in the face of conflict to advocate for their opinions.

It’s like raising our boys to be kind and not fight and then to be aggressive on the soccer field or hockey arena.

And when we look at cultural norms for women raised around the world, and now trying to get ahead in the North American workplace, it can be so much more challenging.

When women experience microaggressions – historically or in their current role – they are much less likely to feel psychologically safe, making it harder to take risks, create new ways of doing things, raise their voice in dissent or to challenge authority. We’ve been taught to blend in, to not take risks and to look a certain way to be accepted.

Couple that with how much stress we’re holding onto in our personal lives as still the primary caregivers in the home and taking care of aging parents, maybe we don’t want to be visible for fear of having more to do?? (Yikes! Reality speaks.)

Regardless, if we want to be visible, we have to be intentional about changing how we show up if we are to be more visible at work, in our businesses and in our lives.


How women can empower each other to overcome challenges

Women empowering womenIn McKinsey’s annual study, the microaggressions that women and other marginalized groups personally experience continue to impact the day-to-day success of women at work. Here are a few ways that women are impacted more than men:

  • Others get credit for my ideas (1.5x more than men)
  • My judgement is questioned (1.5x more than men)
  • I have been mistake for someone more junior(2x more than men)
  • I have been confused with someone else of the same race or nationality (2x more than men)
  • Others comment on my appearance (2.5x more than men)
  • Others comment on my emotional state (2x more than men)

And the numbers rise if you are a woman of colour or a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

When you notice something like this happening at work – you can speak up for your colleague. Ex: “Yes, great point John, that’s what Angie just shared a moment ago and I totally agree, as Angie said….”; “Interesting point, I agree with Sue in that…..”

Seven ways you can support your female colleagues:

  1. Advocate for your colleagues by supporting their opinion
  2. Make a point of sharing and celebrating other women’s successes
  3. Share another women’s business online with your community
  4. Empower and support female colleagues to help build their confidence and acknowledge contributions
  5. Mentor younger women at work or in life
  6. Connect women by introducing them to each other
  7. Give genuine compliments freely and frequently


Strategies that help women break through barriers to visibility

In the work I do privately with my leadership development clients and in community with  my business development clients to increase confidence and improve visibility, the issues that emerge are often very similar. It’s the execution of the “how-to” that shifts depending on if the client is working to increase visibility at work or in their business.

At the core of all are the Five Pillars of Aligned Success:


SE 5Pillars Flower full

In the workplace this can look like:

Clarity – know what you’re going for. Are you actively vying for a promotion? Then make sure you are taking steps to be visible in front of those who will be advocating for you.

Communication – be heard – speak up at meetings. Voice your opinion. Take more risks.

Confidence – speak with confidence and self-authority. Believe in yourself and others will too. Fake it til you make it, as they say.

Connection – make sure you’re connecting with your colleagues. Go for lunch. Grab informal coffees. Have walking meetings. Actively seek out mentors and identify mentees. Building these relationships are key to increasing your visibility in the workplace.

Community – find your people. Attend networking events. Volunteer for workplace opportunities to interact with colleagues outside of your current role. Learn more about the company. Get involved.


In your business this can look like:

Clarity – know your key messages and what you want to be known for. What are you selling? Why is this important? What are your ideal clients looking for? What problem do you solve?

Communication – where are you sharing your message and interacting with your ideal clients? Online? In-person? On Social Media? Through Email Marketing? Through speaking events? On Podcasts? Know that you can share the same message, repeatedly; it’s just where you are sharing it and how you share it changes.

ConfidencePractice makes perfect and practice also breeds confidence. There is a series of steps that helps you see how confident you are:  Are you:

  • Unconsciously incompetent?
  • Consciously incompetent?
  • Consciously competent?
  • Unconsciously competent?

Which one are you right now? In what areas are you consciously incompetent and want to improve? Let’s go there, and then track as you reach the consciously competent and then unconsciously competent stages. The key is to keep working on it. Keep practicing. Practice breeds confidence.

Connectionconnecting with yourself daily – through meditation and journaling for example; connecting with others; connecting with your clients

CommunityI believe aligning yourself with a community of champions, supporters and encouragers is a gamechanger in business success. Nothing will help you build your confidence on the road to visibility more quickly than this essential element.


Building confidence and assertiveness

Confident woman at workAt the core of this work to build visibility in the workplace and in your business, is to tackle that challenge of confidence and allow yourself to be assertive. It’s not just your environment that’s holding you back, it’s generations of cultural norms, it’s how you were raised and what society has historically expected of women.

It’s OK to be visible! It’s more than OK. What advantage is it to others for you to be holding your ideas and impact back from being released into the world?

Navigating the personal reasons with professional outcomes of visibility challenges at work and in your business requires an approach that tackles these workplace challenges from both personal and systemic perspectives. By recognizing and confronting the cultural norms and gender biases that contribute to these challenges, women can begin to carve out spaces where their voices are heard, and their contributions are recognized.

Visibility is about so much more than just marketing. It’s about confronting societal norms; it’s about consciously making choices for advocating what we believe in; it’s about stepping into your personal spotlight to benefit the world around you. There is no downside to being more visible. As we move forward, let’s commit to supporting each other on this journey, celebrating each other’s achievements, and continuing to advocate for a workplace where everyone has the opportunity to be seen, heard, and valued, and where your work as business owners can continue to transform lives and improve the well-being of your clients.

Together, we can transform challenges at work and resistance to visibility into opportunities, paving the way for a brighter, more inclusive future – with YOUR VOICE a part of the future. Let’s do this!

To your success,

Susan Elford

Susan Elford is a Leadership Coach and Business Mentor who especially loves to work with women who want it all: a fulfilling career or business while living a full and satisfying life. Through powerful career coaching and business mentorship to get their career or business to the next level, Susan helps her clients get real about their strengths and celebrate and promote them so they get more of what they want: success at work; success in business & success in life.


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