Moving Beyond the Boys' Club - 'Big Up' Your Language

Suzanne Doyle-Morris writes:

As an executive coach who works primarily with women in male-dominated fields, I often work with female clients on stabling a sense of “gravitas.”

One way to make sure others take your contributions seriously is looking how you verbally establish your presence through your choice of words. As a rule, when asked what you do, don’t minimise your achievements. Men are much better at ‘bigging up’ their language and it’s a lesson that women who work in a man’s world must learn.

Laura Hinton, a partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, said in my book Beyond the Boys’ Club: Strategies for Achieving Career Success as a Woman Working in a Male Dominated Field:

“I didn’t realise how much I prefaced my comments with ‘I guess it might…’ or ‘This is just my opinion, so it could be wrong but…’ Those types of throwaway comments gave the impression I was uncertain or not confident of my facts, when actually I knew exactly what I was talking about.”

Minimising your achievements, usually for the perceived comfort of others, is a mistake you can’t afford to make if you work primarily with men. To this end, remove the words small, only, kind of, just and little when talking about you and your team’s wins.

You have not ‘just landed a small project’ – every new piece of business has the potential to be larger than we think. Dismiss phrases such as ‘I only work part-time’ when you work four days a week, and regularly check your Blackberry on the day you are meant to be off.

Minimising your accomplishments in the hope others will see through your humility rarely works in the workplace and certainly not in job interviews or appraisals. Nor does it belie true confidence, which is truly what employers want when considering hiring and promotions.


Suzanne Doyle-Morris is the author of Beyond the Boys’ Club: Strategies for Achieving Career Success as a Woman Working in a Male-dominated Field.

See also: 

Suzanne Doyle-Morris’ blog: