Real Talk: Taboo Obstacles Women Face at Work and How to Overcome Them

March is Women’s History Month, so all month long we’re celebrating strong women in the workplace. Over the past five years, the number of women in leadership has grown; however, women are still underrepresented at every level. Many women hit a “glass ceiling” as they advance in their careers which prevents them from reaching leadership positions.

They face a number of obstacles and challenges, many of which they don’t feel comfortable addressing openly. Let’s take a look at three real challenges we’ve heard from women and talk about how we would overcome them.

1. Challenge: One of my male co-workers has a habit of constantly interrupting female colleagues when they are speaking or presenting to the larger team.

Solution: Being talked over by men is one of the most daunting challenges women face at work. First, let’s acknowledge that all of us have a ‘listening problem’ overall, and we could all do a better job of letting others finish their thoughts. That said, there are two steps to kicking this to the curb:

First, stay in the ring and don’t give up. Grab the reins back and calmly say, “I’d like to finish my thought…” and do so.

Then, follow up with privately with this individual and state what you observed in the meeting (you interrupted me) and why this matters:

  • “I am an important contributor on this team and I want my voice to be heard.”
  • “For us to be successful, I need for the client/my team, to hear my point of view.”
  • “We will make better decisions when we get input from all members of the team.”

2. Challenge: I can’t believe this is still happening in 2020, but men are constantly taking credit for my ideas, sometimes as they are coming out of my mouth.

Solution: Speak up! Are you seeing a pattern here? When this happens, you might turn to the individual and say, “I appreciate the build you just offered on my idea. What exactly are you proposing that is different?”

What you’re doing here is calling it out without losing your composure, claiming credit for the idea without seeming threatened, and holding the person accountable for his behavior. The more you can address these toxic behaviors in a calm and confident manner, the more likely your message is to be received and the more likely you are to see behavior change.

3. Challenge: I worked with a male client who would rarely give me eye contact – preferring instead to direct his attention to male leaders on my team.

Solution: Many men have been mistakenly conditioned to direct their attention to other men, assuming that they have the highest “status” in the room. We simply need to redirect their attention by speaking up and staking a claim, e.g. “Actually Bob, I am the expert on that topic and would be happy to work through a solution with you.”

Your teammates can and should help correct this behavior also by re-directing the client’s gaze and attention to you. See if you can enroll them to be a part of the solution as well.

As Jasmine so powerfully sang in the most recent interpretation of Disney’s Aladdin, “All I know is I won’t go speechless!” The more we let these behaviors slide, go unnoticed and unchecked, the harder we make it for women to claim their seat at the table. Speak up, speak out and be the change you wish to see for women, this month and all year long.

Can you relate to these situations? Know you’re certainly not alone. A mentor or a coach can be an excellent outlet and resource. Feel free to reach out to us at for more information about executive coaching.