Jul 29, 2015


Latina Cubicle Confidential: Speak Up At Work-Why Your Career Depends On It

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Are you often the last one to speak up at work meetings?  Do you tend to stay quiet when everyone else is jumping in to the conversation about a project? Has your boss ever said to you, “You’ve been really quiet during the meeting today; do you want to share any thoughts with the rest of the team?”

That remark is a clear indicator that your boss and maybe even your co-workers are wondering if you are interested and engaged in your job.   In order to manage your career effectively, this is something to act upon quickly and decisively.

For Latinas, we can experience some discomfort about drawing attention to ourselves.   Sometimes it can be the anxiety of being the only Latina at the table or some concern about how others will view our ideas simply because we are Latina.  Depending on your personal experience as an immigrant or first and second generation Latina, the idea of taking a position on something may seem culturally awkward when we try to align with our values for respect, service and humility. While these values can make us outstanding employees, unfortunately they can also be misunderstood in some work environments.  In today’s competitive workplace, no one can afford to be thought of as disengaged or worse—in over your head.  Silence during team meetings can be interpreted by some as having nothing to contribute because you don’t know enough about the topic.  This can be the one reason you are overlooked for a promotion or not assigned to lead a project.

Some might argue that holding out to the very end of a meeting, allows you to be more strategic in your remarks or let’s you know just how everyone feels over one particular idea.   True.  Yet the last thing you want people to conclude is that you let everyone else do the hard work of problem solving.  Even if you do like to hear everyone’s perspective first before speaking up, make sure you manage how people see your silence.  You might open up you comments be saying, “I have purposely listened to everyone’s views today and what I want to contribute now reflects on what I think our discussion is leading us to do next.”

Why is this a good way to break into the conversation?  First, it affirms you know that you have been quiet and that you have indeed been listening.  Second, it demonstrates leadership by taking into account what has been said and offering a conclusion about what actions may be needed next.  This is what formal and informal leaders to—they assess the situation facing a team, offer their perspective on what to do and they manage how people interpret their behavior.

If speaking up in a meeting remains a challenge for you, take an honest inventory of what is holding you back.  Do you come prepared to engage in the conversation?  Do you feel intimidated by the attention?  Seek out your trusted advisors and ask them for feedback.  Next, take the time to talk with your boss and make sure he or she knows you have plenty of ideas to contribute to your team’s success.  You may be surprised that sharing your ideas will initiate an important dialogue with your boss that will make it easier for you to speak up as you build on your working relationship.  Speaking up at your team meetings will be a natural extension of those conversations and that truly can take you a long way on your career.    Visit me at Latina Cubicle Confidential on Facebook or join me live at the next LatinaVIDA™.

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Dr. Maria G. Hernandez has 20 years experience consulting in both the United States and Mexico to senior executives in Fortune 50 companies and facilitated change initiatives for elected officials and their staff. She has worked in academia, business, nonprofits, technology startups, and public agencies. Visit the Latina Cubicle Confidential™ Facebook (link below) or join Dr. Hernandez live at the next LatinaVIDA™-Visibility, Identity, Direction, Action.

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  1. I’ve always struggled trying to understand why, being a pretty friendly and sociable person, I’m usually the quiet one in group setting specially when it’s around new people. The third paragraph nailed it in the head, being the only Latina at particular settings has had an internal effect. Which is so interesting as we are considered to be a fiery culture. I’m bringing my “fieriness” back into my step ;)

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin Angélica Pérez-Litwin says:

      Yes, Daisy, it may have something to do with being the only one that’s Latina. But, like you said, we are by nature very self-expressive. We just need to find confidence in our abilities to communicate our ideas and thoughts in a business setting. Thank you for your comment!

    • Yes, being the only Latina in the room –too often–is a challenge in many settings! It takes courage and our fierce resolve not to be silenced to stand out and be heard. You go girl! M

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