How to Own the Spotlight at Work—Without Apology

Tanya Menon speaker sessionWomen have long been taught that coming across as overly assertive in the workplace can backfire. But not being assertive enough can have even greater negative career outcomes, said Tanya Menon, associate professor at the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business, and a speaker at Booth Women Connect Conference 2017. 

A woman climbing the corporate ladder may be perceived as a threat by those around her, but it’s OK to shatter egos through both words and actions, said Menon. Too often, women are reluctant to use assertive tactics in the workplace, shrinking back to maintain some semblance of peace rather than risk coming off as too aggressive, she explained. “Whenever we feel like we are threatening others, we try to compliment them to make them feel better and erase ourselves in the process,” said Menon.

Menon shared a few strategies for owning your competence without apology:

There’s no such thing as balance in the workplace

When it comes to navigating a tricky work situation, Menon told the audience, don’t get bogged down with worrying about other’s needs or crafting a solution that benefits everyone involved. Instead, move forward with your own priorities in mind. We hear “all of these strategies to get the balance right, but balance is actually impossible for us to execute,” she explained.

Tap into your sense of self

It can be easier to depend on others to prop you up in the face of your own career doubts, said Menon, who added that women are more likely than men to feel this way. “Women are more likely to have ‘reflective’ self-esteem, [in which] our sense of self doesn’t reside within us,” she explained. Understanding this tendency can make it easier to stand up for yourself at the office, she added.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Though it’s important to be assertive, there’s no need to react to everything, Menon told the crowd. Part of the process means ignoring some of the small issues that may arise at work because they can detract from larger goals. “We have to get better at ignoring many of the small things we face in life,” she said.

Own your successes

Feeling comfortable with your own achievements is another way to stand up to what may seem like threats in the workplace, Menon explained. Oftentimes, women may be too reluctant to claim credit after successfully completing a project or earning a promotion. “We have to get comfortable with women succeeding without apologizing for it in this way,” she said. 

Menon spoke at Booth Women Connect Conference, organized by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The annual event brought together more than 1,000 professionals for an extraordinary day of bold ideas, spirited discussion, practical insights, and impactful networking. Join us for next year’s conference on October 12, 2018.

—By Alina Dizik

Read More Articles from Booth Women Connect Conference 2017»