Women aren't pushing back in real time. Here's how to do it.

“Knowing your value and being able to articulate who you are...It puts you in the position to influence,” gender strategist and author of “Dig Your Heels In” Joan Kuhl tells Mika Brzezinski.
Joan Kuhl, gender strategist and author of "Dig Your Heels In."
Joan Kuhl, gender strategist and author of "Dig Your Heels In."Travis W Keyes Photography

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By Halley Bondy

When women face confrontation in the workplace, they tend to suppress their feelings, stew, and create more problems for themselves, That’s why women would benefit and gain greater respect at work if they learned to push back in real time, according to Joan Kuhl, a gender strategist and author of “Dig Your Heels In,” a how-to guide for women about standing up for change in the workplace

Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski recently interviewed Kuhl about why women struggle with speaking up in real time.

“I point the finger at bias,” said Kuhl. “I do think that society’s perception of how we’re supposed to behave, how we’re not supposed to behave — it’s there.”

Speaking up, however, is an important tool for gaining respect and power in the workplace.

“Knowing your value and being able to articulate who you are...It puts you in the position to influence,” said Kuhl. “...If you believe you have a role in a conflict or missed opportunity, that gives you the ability to strengthen your endurance to go back in there and do something about it. Not let it fester.”

However, women struggle internally to speak when the moment calls for it, said Kuhl.

“Impostor syndrome. People who are confident and high-achieving they still suffer from it, men or women,” Kuhl said. “But the consequences for women are worse.”

Women often feel silenced when men interrupt them, or if there is an aggressive person in a meeting, Kuhl said. Sometimes, a solution can come in the form of small gestures, like facial expressions.

“Here’s one of the things I struggled with,” Kuhl recalled. “When someone is talking in a meeting and I want them to shut up — the aggressor in the meeting — I [used to] nod and smile. That encourages them to keep talking. And I actually don’t agree with what they’re saying, so I’ve had to practice into the mirror being neutral, and that will halt someone in their sentence.”

So what do you do if you miss the moment to speak up? Kuhl said it’s never too late.

“Women regret not taking the moment. They go into a meeting, they were prepared, but somebody kept interrupting them,” Kuhl said. “Don’t let it fall away from there. Send an email and follow up. Get back in front of them. Go into their office, knock on the door and say ‘I had a really important point to make, and I’m a leader here too. I want to make sure that my perspective is on the table.’”

Brzezinski said that some women tend to retreat and gossip about what happened, rather than stand up for themselves.

“If you don’t push back in real time, in the moment, you go to talk to a lot of other people about it,” Brzezinski said. “It’s so destructive. Even worse, you’re trying to rally support for your feelings that were hurt instead of dealing with the issue.”

Kuhl argued that such an approach only decreases womens’ power and makes them into victims. Instead, women should own their power and speak up while keeping the overall business in mind. Management will have to be receptive.

“One thing I recommend to women is alignment with the business case,” Kuhl said. “The reason why we’re trying to give our input is because we believe we’ll make the business better. That’s what gender equality is doing. It’s not ‘she wins, he loses.’ We’re saying that we can unlock more innovation if you understand our perspective, our point of view.”