My babyface didn’t used to bother me. Being ID-ed buying wine in Sainsbury’s aged twenty-five made my day. And when I was refused a bottle of champagne at the till while pushing my son in a pram a few years later, I was too busy crowing about my youthful looks on Facebook to worry about what I would instead serve my dinner guests that evening.
But increasingly it’s become an issue. It’s been, sadly, a while since I was refused in the pub. But the doubters are still there and, worse, now they’re at work. I’m not alone. A friend was recently promoted to a very senior role in a public company. He’s a guy with more grey hair than the average and, whilst I know him to be incredible at his job, it was hard to imagine his equally incredible, much younger looking wife nabbing a similar role. Not only have men started to age faster than women, but synonymous as it is with inexperience, looking younger is also more problematic for us at work. In my work as a diversity and careers expert, it’s important I be seen as just that, an “expert”, and the same is true for many of my female clients. So if you too want to be taken more seriously and ditch that youthful image – at least in the office – what can you do?
Sound Your Age. We know that what we say has a huge impact on how we’re perceived, but what about how we say it? Lower the tone of your voice, avoid hedging language and unnecessary questions. Most importantly, keep uptalk – that valley girl tic where your intonation rises at the end of a sentence – to a minimum. But research shows that speaking in this way makes you appear younger and more uncertain in the eyes of others. We’re not saying you should talk like a man. Speaking in a feminine way also has it’s advantages, but until biases change, sounding more grown up will pay dividends.
Think Like A Woman. As a woman, ageing often comes with mixed emotions. As much as we want to be taken seriously, both biology and society encourage us to hold onto our “girlishness”. But when you get to work, leave your inner girl at the door. As with so many things, internal changes to your self-image will have a huge impact on others reactions. In other words, may be your idea of yourself as too young rather than anyone else’s that is holding you back. Try an affirmation to help you begin to believe you are more grown up. And even internally, always refer to yourself as a woman not a girl.
Speak Up. It’s not just your confidence, it is actually more difficult for women to get their point across in meetings. Clearly, attitudes need to change. But as individuals we probably don’t want to wait for that to happen. So make sure that when you do speak it’s with purpose and confidence. If you know the answer, don’t wait to craft the perfect response. By the time you’ve honed it, the moment will be long gone. And make sure your voice – that new, lower, emphatic one – is heard in meetings as often as your peers’. The more colleagues hear you talk like an expert on your subject, the more respect you will gain. Soon
Stand Your Ground. Women like to help. It’s a cliche, but research shows in the workplace it’s actually true. Women are much more likely than men to do office “housework” and offering to take the minutes will do nothing for your cred. Offering to do menial tasks marks you out as junior. So to be seen as mature, you need to get more strategic. Be judicious about choosing who to help and how. And remember to look after number one. We know that women (and men) who prioritise their own needs alongside those of others reap the highest work rewards.