Have you heard of invisible women? And how do you become visible? I’ve coached on numerous leadership development programs, when the issue of feeling invisible often occurs – particularly for females, but also for introverts and people from some cultures. Although women might have skills, experience and long service, they are not necessarily promoted or recognised by being awarded the expected paygrade or position. Women are still being passed over by people – often men – who may be less competent than they are – and they come to me for leadership coaching to explore the reasons and action they can take to resolve this. More often than not, their successful rivals are more skilled in self-promotion and networking to promote visibility – which are all proven strategies for advancement.
Why don’t women do visibility? In fact, some even strive for invisibility! The reasons are diverse. They may hold beliefs like ‘I shouldn’t need to promote myself – surely they can already see what I do,’ to ‘boasting is awful’. Or they feel uncomfortable: ‘it’s just not me’. Or, as if there’s only so much visibility to go round, they don’t want to deprive other people who may need it more. Or they are frightened of challenging social norms: ‘women are expected to be modest’. Some women are actively avoiding the spotlight, and remain on the sidelines.
But visibility is vital to career progress and transition into leadership roles. Telling wider decision-makers what you are doing, working on, or achieving raises your profile – which also means that the next time a capable leader is required or an opportunity comes up, you are the first person who springs to mind. The success of your organisation also depends on your visibility as a representative of it. Leaders who are visible can more successfully create opportunities and gain resources to mobilise them and their teams to perform. To gather support, allies and create synergies, visibility is invaluable – increasing efficiency, effectiveness, success and impact.
It makes sense to be more visible. But if you’re trapped under an invisibility spell, what can you do to address this?
How to be visible
Know your mind
Check your mindset, to identify any limiting beliefs you have about being visible to others. Then you can address and resolve them from here on.
- What are your current thoughts about being visible at work? Up to now, how well has that thinking served you?
- Think of someone you know, who is good at visibility.
- Identify what it is that they do – which behaviours, mindset or attitudes can you model from them, and do, for yourself?
- What’s standing in your way of being visible? Think of any beliefs that limit you, or barriers. What can you do to overcome or get rid of these? What help do you need?
Clarify the purpose of being visible, for you. Be really clear on your reasons and check how well they align with your personal or professional values. This helps to frame the way you will proceed towards your goal. It also helps to make sure your purpose in gaining visibility and the way you go about it are based in your own authenticity. Being congruent is essential.
- What do you want to achieve from your increased visibility?
- How well is this aligned to your own values?
Set some goals and targets. Prioritise which meetings, groups, conferences and networking events are most important to attend – and know why.
Don’t wait for an invitation – create opportunities. If your work is not popularly known across your organisation – offer to give presentations to other departments to showcase your team’s work and create synergies. Or organize meetings, events or groups on issues that matter to you – leadership for women, or parents. Meet up with new contacts and talk about your work and yourself.
- Identify your goals for greater visibility. Incorporate them into your personal development plan.
- For each goal, list the realisable actions you need to take to get you there.
Use every event – presentation, meeting or conference – as an opportunity to increase your visibility. Decide how you wish to show up – and beforehand, plan how you will participate. E.g. how can you leverage these meetings to make yourself more visible? Especially bigger events between a number of organsations. If you are usually reticent in meetings, prepare yourself by reading any meeting documents beforehand and decide on a couple of questions you are going to ask, or prepare a comment to make on the subject. Decide:
- the ways in which you can contribute.
- Particular points to make.
- Things you need to do, be, have or say to make it happen.
Practise, Practise, Practise
Exercise your visibility muscles. Any skill takes some practice until it becomes a way of life. Despite a number of women, introverts, and people of different cultures allegedly hating attention or being told never to attract it – you need to be visible to develop positive relationships and to progress your career prospects or your cause. Face the fact that invisibility is unhelpful. Make the change. However uncomfortable and awkward it feels, with practice it gets easier and you will become proficient in time. Practise visibility. This results in greater effectiveness overall and opens you to greater opportunities.
Set your mindset, know your purpose and goals, prepare to be visible and practise it. You will get better at being confident in public, your actions and presence will have more meaning – and your visibility will get you success. Achieve visible results by making yourself seen, heard and known.
A version of this article originally appeared in Forbes.
For more information on this theme, please download my coaching programme brochure – Women’s Leadership Coaching – For Women in Global Development –specifically designed for women working in global development.
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