Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


How Business Women Can Handicap Their Careers

Once again, I am teaching my assertiveness class in the School of Business at Rutgers University this semester. Since women make up almost 90 percent of the class, I will highlight the behaviors women exhibit in the workplace that can cause them to lose visibility and power. These verbal and non-verbal actions send the message: “It’s OK to discount me,” “Don’t listen to me,” and “Don’t take me as seriously as that man on the other side of the table.” 

One of my old newsletter articles described 25 promotion-hindering behaviors by women in the workplace. Unfortunately, these behaviors are still happening, and still limiting women’s careers.

Listed below are the first 11 points addressed in that newsletter, updated where necessary for today's workplace. Part two will be posted next week, and will cover the remaining 14 items. These discussions include speaking with power, establishing rapport, and professional image.


1. Contribute – even if it’s a stretch. Women tell me that contributing in meetings can be difficult, especially if they are of lower rank than the other participants, or the only woman present. Get over it! You need to contribute, or your visibility factor goes to zero. Men tend to contribute more, so their ideas are adopted more often. Be prepared. Before a meeting, consider what you might be asked or what you can contribute. Speak early – ask a question or make an observation or statement. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to build up your nerve to speak. 

2. Don’t ask permission to talk. Women often ask, “May I say something?” Others raise a hand to “request” permission to speak.  One high-level corporate lawyer was shocked when she realized she was the only person in the meeting raising her hand. Instead, say something like, “The question remaining is…” or just start talking to add your point.

3. Interrupt. Interrupting can be an annoying speaking habit, but sometimes it’s vital for women to put aside the niceties to create an opportunity to speak. When interrupting, you can say, “To build on what you are saying…” or “We also need to discuss….” or something similar.

4. Be assertive if interrupted.  When a man interrupts a woman, she often will stop talking. As I described in a previous blog, an article in the Harvard Business Review, Female Supreme Court Justices are interrupted more by male justices and advocates, found that male justices interrupted female justices about three times as often as they interrupted each other during oral arguments. The research also found that “there is no point at which a woman is high-status enough not to be interrupted.” Women have to resist the impulse to give up the floor automatically to men. Don’t ask permission to continue, such as “Can I finish?” Jump right back in with a polite and powerful comment such as, “Hold that thought…,” “I wasn't finished…,” or “I’ll talk about that in just a second….”

5. Stand when appropriate to present your ideas. Women stay seated much too often. Standing is a more powerful position, because it forces others to look up to you.

6. Don’t take notes. A woman told me she was the only person in the room taking notes when others spoke. The men just listened. As a result, she appeared to be the administrative assistant.

7. Know when to stop talking. Women tend to give too much detail. If you go on and on, others will tune you out. Make your point succinctly, and then stop talking!


8. Toot your own horn. You don’t want to be obnoxious, but you must learn to speak well of yourself. There are a number of ways to do this. You can apply for awards and enter competitions. You can also post your accomplishments on your social media sites — just don’t mention the same accomplishment over and over. You can also weave your accomplishments into a story or illustration, as if you are offering the information for the other person’s benefit.  For example, when I talk in seminars about how men tend to interrupt more than women during meetings, I mention comments from my seminar participants in Oman, in the Middle East. These remarks add to the discussion, and they also highlight my international experience.

9. Give formal presentations. Giving presentations increases your visibility within your company/department. As a bonus, it can help you become known as an expert.  If public speaking makes you nervous, take a class on presentation skills. Giving effective presentations is a skill that can be mastered, with training and practice. Additional information on presentation skills can be found in my new book, The Communication Clinic.

10. Accept compliments. Women often discount themselves when given a compliment.  If someone tells you, “Great job,” don’t say, “Oh, it was nothing,” or “Anyone could have done it.”  Accept that compliment by saying, “Thank you,” and then shut your mouth!

11. Eliminate self-discounting language. Self-discounting words include: kinda, sorta, maybe, perhaps, probably, just, and actually. These are the extra words that, when added to sentences, discount what the speaker is saying.  If you say, “Maybe we have to look at all the possibilities,” others will think, “Well, should we or shouldn't we?” If you say, “It’s kinda a problem and perhaps we should…” the other person could dismiss the whole idea as wishy-washy.

I post regularly on communication and etiquette.  We can connect via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and my website:

About: Barbara Pachter is an internationally-renowned business etiquette and communications speaker, coach and author of 11 business books. She helps individuals communicate more effectively and enhance their professional presence. Pachter is also adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University.


  1. Thanks for this, Barbara. I was glad to share with my female interns while also noting it's a good reminder for my male colleagues to be more mindful of their gender-based interrupting.


  2. Its a wonderful post and very helpful, thanks for all this information. You are including better information regarding this topic in an effective way.Thank you so much

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