No matter how much negativity or chaos is swirling around you, remain calm — and be a role model of compassion and respect toward others.

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At a recent mentoring session, I asked the group of young women and men for their opinions on how they would handle themselves in the following situation.

You’re a female at the executive level of a Fortune 500 global corporation. Most of the executives reporting to the CEO are male. You are being left out of important meetings. When you are in meetings and speak out with an idea, the males in the room ignore you, interrupt you, talk over you or claim your idea as their own.

I stared at the shocked looks on the faces around the table. “What do you do?” I asked.

“That’s terrible!” exclaimed one male in his mid-20s, shaking his head. “Why are the men at that company so afraid of women?”

There was some laughter, but it became quiet again very quickly.

“Well, I suppose I’d want to know why I’m being left out of important meetings,” said one of the women. “I mean, if I’m good at what I do and knowledgeable, why wouldn’t I be considered part of the management team?”

My mentoring group was surprised to find out that a similar situation had happened to women in the White House. When Obama took office, two-thirds of the president’s top aides were men, and women were complaining about their voices being ignored.

“What did they do?” asked one of my mentees.

“The women adopted a technique during meetings called ‘amplification,’” I explained. “Whenever one of the women shared an idea or made a key point, another woman in the room would speak out and restate the idea and why she thought it was a good idea or key point that so-and-so had just made.”

“I bet the women also banded together to make sure none of the men could interrupt or talk over other women during meetings,” another mentee said. “That would make me so angry if someone treated me that way in a meeting.”

“I like that the women worked together to help each other,” added one of the young men. “But it’s sad that it got to the point that they even had to do that.”

That’s when I shifted the group to a question focused on organizational culture: What can managers and employees do, regardless of gender, to ensure an inclusive work environment?

A very passionate discussion followed about the proactive steps that can be taken to ensure organizations build cultures with positive values and attributes, including:

  • Invite the right people to meetings — diversity of people leads to diversity of ideas
  • Solicit everyone’s opinion. During meetings, ask each person to share their thoughts, concerns or ideas on the topic
  • Give credit where it’s due
  • Be a role model of the behavior you want to see in others
  • Adopt a “will not tolerate” strategy when it comes to disrespectful behavior in the workplace
  • Act quickly to alleviate behaviors that can lead to a culture of hyper-competitiveness or disrespect

Bottom line: Every person in an organization can affect culture, be it in a positive or negative manner. How you choose to conduct yourself is indicative of your personal character. No matter how much negativity or chaos is swirling around you, remain calm — and be a role model of compassion and respect toward others.

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.