THINK COMING UP WITH AN INNOVATIVE IDEA IS THE HARD PART? WHAT ABOUT CONVINCING YOUR BOSS TO GET ON BOARD?
As much as we wish it weren’t the case, for women in the workplace, it’s harder for you to get an idea heard and supported by a manager than it is for male colleagues. As a point of reference, a recent study published by researchers from Harvard, MIT and the Wharton School found that women pitching the same idea to venture capitalists got less funding than men.
That same bias often permeates the corporate workplace where, as Time Magazine recently observed, women often get “man-terrupted” during meetings or have their original ideas claimed by male coworkers. Further, according to an important 2011 study by McKinsey & Co, “women are often evaluated for promotions primarily on performance, while men are often promoted on potential.” So in a world where men earn opportunity based on what they could achieve, women find themselves facing a much higher bar when presenting ideas to their managers.
But these negative trends are no reason to give up the good fight. We believe that women can and should successfully pitch ideas to their boss and management. It’s an uphill (and unfair) battle, but that’s exactly why it’s one worth pursuing. To increase your odds of success, there are several steps you should take:
1. BE YOUR OWN PUBLICIST
Every work day, whether you’re ready to pitch an idea or not, you are laying the groundwork for how your idea will be received. As the Atlantic reported in 2013, a study revealed that “women were unlikely to take credit for their role in group work in a mixed-gender setting unless their roles were explicitly clear to outsiders.”
It’s unlikely that anyone else will truly highlight and champion your contributions, so you should be sure to do it yourself. If you are uncomfortable explicitly touting your achievements—as many women are —a subtle but effective way to make sure you get credit for your them is to create a recap report or email that you share with key stakeholders about a project’s success. Highlight what your project achieved with a focus on metrics, and be sure to include a list of a project team. Be sure to give credit to everyone who was involved, but make sure your name is on the top of the list!
Head to a mentor or advisor you respect, and ask him or her to poke holes in your thesis and ask you hard questions. That way you will be prepared for whatever questions get fired your way.
2. MAKE YOUR PITCH BULLETPROOF
It’s unfortunate but extremely likely that your proposal for an idea will be subject to greater scrutiny than a man’s would be. The best way to address that bias is with due diligence and over-preparation.
Head to a mentor or advisor you respect, and ask him or her to poke holes in your thesis and ask you hard questions. That way you will be prepared for whatever questions get fired your way. Don’t only think of it as doing it for “them”—your work will ultimately be stronger for it, too.
3. BE A TEAM PLAYER
One way that women often outshine men is through emotional intelligence and their ability to listen to their colleagues. Use this to your competitive advantage by running your idea by colleagues you trust and respect—at all levels—to get their input and buy-in. If there is a groundswell of support for your idea, it’s more likely to get approved at the top. And as a bonus, more people will know that the idea was yours—so it is less likely that someone else will commandeer it.
4. GET SPECIFIC
This is not the time to dream or be vague about your goals. Your pitch should be written on paper (or at least on a screen!) with highly specific objectives and a clear timeline. I’m a particular fan of the 30-60-90 day plan because the more tangible you can make your proposal through every one of its life stages, the easier it is for your manager to envision what you’re trying to accomplish and support your ambition. Further, he or she is more likely to feel like part of the process.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t win support for your idea on the first try. Nothing will show your boss how committed you are to the idea—and confident you are of its success—than your willingness to pitch it multiple times.
5. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
Nothing will gain your manager’s support more than if you’ve mapped out optimistic (but achievable) performance metrics for your idea. Walk him or her through the math, data, and assumptions that led you to your projected results. If your boss can visualize the outcome of your idea along paired with the confidence of real numbers, he or she is much more likely to support the idea (especially if there’s funding involved).
6. PITCH IT AGAIN (AND AGAIN)
One of my favorite bosses used to say, “every sale starts with no.” The same is absolutely true of internal pitches. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t win support for your idea on the first try. Ask your manager for specific feedback, and go back and do more homework to address his or her concerns.
Come back two weeks later, and try again. Nothing will show your boss how committed you are to the idea—and confident you are of its success—than your willingness to pitch it multiple times.
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While these steps may feel involved and onerous, the reality is that they will not only help win your idea more support, they will also ensure greater success for your idea when it is eventually improved. You will have put yourself through the paces to give yourself and those around the confidence to belief that you can and will lead the project to success.