The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on several challenges but it’s especially affecting women’s chances of feeling seen and heard at work. Catalyst, a non-profit that works to promote women’s leadership, released a report stating that 45% of women business leaders find it difficult to speak up in virtual meetings.

The problem, however, isn’t pandemic-induced. Even before remote working became the new norm, women professionals have struggled to be more assertive in the workplace. In my experience, I have seen several amazing minds hold their tongue during meetings or engage passively during group discussions. Oftentimes, women have a tough time balancing authenticity and assertiveness.

Trusting one’s voice and overcoming limiting beliefs isn’t easy even under the best circumstances. Women face a unique set of challenges in business settings and that’s an undeniable reality. The fear of appearing dominating or unpleasantly authoritative prevents women from trusting their voice. Confidence is as important as competence and the only way to be seen for your true potential is through effective communication. People who get ahead are the ones who speak up, advocate, negotiate and promote themselves. It’s time to break the silence and make your voice heard.

Being assertive is a formidable task for women because it’s often associated with being difficult, hostile and rude. So, can one be assertive without appearing aggressive? Absolutely! The secret lies in emotional intelligence—a person’s ability to manage their emotions in ways that lead to successful interactions and collaborations. An assertive speaker would say, “this is what we need to do” without softening or qualifying their words.

Confident and assertive women not only communicate clearly but also know how to effectively advocate for themselves. Even in disagreements, negotiate skillfully and disagree respectfully. You shouldn’t be afraid of asking important questions or offering diverse perspectives in meetings and brainstorming sessions. Most importantly, remain resilient in the face of challenges and changes. Irrespective of your job position in the organization, foster positive leadership traits to stand out at work. Lead yourself to success by determining your course of action.

They say that success is sequential, not simultaneous. Being assertive and establishing your presence in the workplace also requires consistent, mindful effort, and the key is to not give up. Believe in your ideas, and speak up, even if your voice shakes. Your opinions matter, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!


Nilanjan Kar is President of Institutions and Enterprises at Harappa. With over 23 years of experience as an enterprise leader, he has previously served as the President, Enterprise Business at UpGrad and Vice President at StackRoute, an NIIT initiative.

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