A look at women’s challenges and opportunities in the workplace 

Woman chairing meeting

As increasing numbers of women enter and shape the workforce, in positions that require ever-stronger leadership abilities, women often struggle to “find their voice”. 

What does that mean?  Is it the way women communicate?  Is it their actual voice? 

I think it’s both. And I believe it’s important we take a look at the challenges as well as opportunities women face as leaders in the workplace. This will allow us to redefine what leadership means in order to create a more vibrant and creative workplace for the leaders of tomorrow. 

A few weeks ago, a manager in the public service came to me struggling with the pressure of always having to be “on”.  “I’m so stressed about constantly having to make quick and meaningful contributions in meetings”, she said. “I lose my train of thought.  I blank out. My voice trails off.  I never feel prepared!”  

On another occasion, the vice-president of an agency confided that she had a hard time asserting her opinions and vision to the audience in presentations and forums. 

“I feel they might disapprove and I’m afraid of confronting set views. I don’t think I sound confident enough.”

And most recently, another manager in the public service shared her challenges balancing the ever-increasing demands of work with the needs of her family.  “I need to delegate more, but I’m afraid to admit I need time for myself”. 

Everywhere, women are feeling the pressure to produce results, to have boundless amounts of energy, to be competitive, competent, confident, serious, tough, motivated… the list goes on.

And even though many women are thriving in roles of greater leadership responsibility, does this come at a cost for some? I think it does. 

Self-doubt, insecurity, acute self-judgment, unreasonably high expectations, inability to delegate, fear of offending others, inability to set boundaries – these often result in conflicting emotions and problems focusing, “losing” our voice, avoiding giving feedback, not preparing adequately for important meetings or discussions, feelings of panic, frustration, dealing with passive aggression and ever-increasing instances of burnout. 

I’m not saying that men don’t struggle with these challenges as well, but from my experience as a communication coach and trainer, women experience them much more acutely.

So, what can we do about it?  How can we rethink women leadership, in order to reshape the workplace to better reflect our needs? What are the opportunities?

Here are some recommendations I share with my clients, and I can say without a doubt that they work: 

  1. Acknowledge all the things that are going well in your life. Celebrate that for a moment. And celebrate it with others. 
  2. When possible, bring on excellent new staff so you can delegate and focus on the bigger picture.
  3. Be clear about your expectations when meeting with your team; this helps with productivity and reduces unnecessary misunderstanding and stress.
  4. Let others represent you in meetings; allow project leads to talk about their projects (this builds individual and team confidence)
  5. If it’s important to you, insist on taking the time to prepare. There are simple tools that can really help your meetings, presentations, difficult conversations, etc. run more smoothly. Use them!
  6. Don’t hesitate to ask others for help and advice. While this may seem like a sign of weakness to you, it truly isn’t. On the contrary, it shows you are open to others’ ideas and suggestions. 
  7. Delegate. You don’t have to do it all on your own. Set up daily stand-up meetings to establish daily and long-term priorities, and ensure each team member is clear on his/her priorities and deadlines.
  8. Take the time to give feedback and praise work well done. This will strengthen team spirit and confidence, and you will reap the benefits.
  9. Carve out quiet time for yourself.  Put a sign up on your door/cubicle saying “back in 15”.  And disappear. 
  10. When speaking, project your voice to convey more confidence. Slow down. Breathe.  Honour your needs.  If you don’t look after yourself, no one else will.

Just make a tweak in one of these areas, and you’ll notice the difference. 

Of course, this is not a panacea for all challenges in the workplace.  But it’s a good start: reconsider your leadership style in order to pave the way for new opportunities of excellence.  For great leadership isn’t just predicated on metrics and results, it also relies on your ability to communicate well, and on how effectively you look after yourself.  

This way you afford yourself more leeway to be creative, speak with confidence, and to inspire others to do the same. 

And of course, I’m here to help. Enter a chance to win a free one-on-one session with me to improve your leadership skills!  Simply complete the 6-minute survey on my website.

Or just contact me via sylvialarrass.com to book training for yourself or your team.

I look forward to hearing from you.  


Sylvia Larrass is a Voice and Leadership Communication Coach based in Ottawa, Canada. She trains people across the country and around the world on how to say what matters most.  More at sylvialarrass.com