Something I see frequently in my work, and especially when coaching women, is that they want to become more visible. But what does visibility mean? And how can we increase visibility for women in the workplace?
What does being visible in the workplace mean?
I recently led a group workshop with four amazing women, and the one thing they all had in common is that they wanted to be more visible at work. They recognized they’re doing great work but also felt they’re not visible enough when it comes to being top of mind for being put on the next available project, for example.
However, when we break down that visibility piece, it’s often around showing off what they’ve accomplished. And this is definitely a part of it – we shouldn’t be shy when sharing our achievements. But I suggest we go beyond this idea and get a bit more creative with it.
One way I recommend women (and people in general) do this is by talking about what interests them. When leaders regularly hear from someone that they’re interested in something, they’re more likely to keep that person in mind when they have a new project coming up that covers that topic. As a result, they’re more likely to approach them so the work becomes a learning opportunity for this person.
The importance of being able to identify and discuss our strengths
Speaking openly about our interests and passions is key because that’s where we all come alive and display a nicer and stronger human connection. Being visible doesn’t mean robotically going through our achievements for the month. There has to be more to it than that.
It’s also about talking about our strengths. It’s important we learn to identify our own strengths, label them, and remember actual examples of when we displayed those traits.
Let’s say one of your strengths is honesty. Then you could say you thrive in project discussions when talking about potential risks, for example. It’s different and more powerful than just stating that you’re good at risk assessments.
The importance of having a 5-year plan or vision
Another key contributor to visibility is having an idea of where you’re headed. Where do you want to be in 5 years‘ time? It doesn’t have to be set in stone. In fact, it’s often quite abstract – 5 years ago, I certainly had no idea of where I’d be today.
But it’s about having a clear sense of what the next thing could be. What do you want to learn next? What would you like to contribute? Is there anything, in particular, that’s intriguing you?
This isn’t about going to your boss and being obnoxious about it. Instead, it’s about regularly sharing what you’re interested in and what skills you’d like to develop. That way, when the next relevant project comes up, you’re more likely to be considered.
It’s about consistency and mentioning your interests in the situations where you see fit. This is in fact a great way to start building your visibility. Because it’s not about speaking in front of an audience of 500 people – it’s about using everyday situations where you’re talking to people. So aim to become known for who you are, what you like, what you’re experienced in, what you can do, and what you want to do.
How coaching techniques can help increase visibility
There are many different coaching techniques we can use to help people find their own path because we all have so much wisdom inside of us. However, we often fixate on that one puzzle piece that’s missing, and we don’t see what else is there. This is what coaching is all about – asking good questions in a structured way to help people uncover the solutions that fit them, for themselves.
I remember one client specifically whose goal was to build more of an expert reputation. She wanted to do that by speaking up more in meetings, voicing her opinions, and constructively challenging others.
So the first thing we did together was to define what good looks like. This is something anyone can do for themselves. What would you like to have more of? What would you like to grow? Focus on that, rather than looking at what you want less of.
Then, with this client, we did a roleplay. She picked three experts to (hypothetically) interview – her sister, Rosalind Franklin, and Barack Obama. One by one, her job was to step into the shoes of each of those people. And when I asked her (while wearing these different hats) how she could build her reputation as an expert, she came up with different pieces of advice – given to her while she was impersonating the people she’d chosen. After these types of exercises, it’s quite typical to end up with a number of tips. So when she went back to look at the list she had, she then picked the advice that spoke to her the most.
At the end of any coaching session, it’s important to have a concrete action plan. It’s about deciding what you’re going to try next and when you’re going to do it. It’s a bit like making a contract with yourself – you now have insights, and it’s time to put them into action.
Increasing visibility is an international and cross-cultural issue
From my experience working with women from different countries and cultures, I find that the wish to increase visibility in the workplace is international and cross-cultural. I recall being on a group coaching call with women from Mexico, Spain, and Jeddah, and their experiences were largely the same. Also, I find that when I post content on LinkedIn, the response is widespread – and it certainly is in westernized countries. Having said that, this is more of an impression through experience rather than a scientific assessment.
What’s key when it comes to visibility in the workplace, I believe, is to redirect the focus on the good elements that are already there – on what’s already working. Because that’s the nicest place from where we can inspire positive change. It’s about looking at what works and magnifying that.
And for me, this is the key difference when it comes to working with people as opposed to processes, for example. When doing business process improvement work, you start with the problem and do analysis to find solutions. But if you follow the same approach with people, then you’re spending most of your time on things that drain your energy. Instead, it’s about finding the areas where growth is possible. And that’s a completely different starting point, which allows you to accelerate progress a lot quicker.