The importance of finding your voice as a woman in the public sector Francesco Carta fotografo

Don't ask for permission is the advice this woman executive offers. Women in the workforce should speak up, advocate for themselves, and become experts in their market, she says.

“Role Incredulity” is something I have often been met with throughout my career. There have been times I’ve walked into a meeting, ready to lead it, and people asked when my boss would be arriving or assumed that I was just there to take notes. That’s because people often assume that women are in a support role rather than a leadership role as that’s perceived more as a “man’s place.”

From my experience, you can either let these types of misconceptions hinder you, or you can use them as an opportunity to re-define the moment.

Throughout my career, I have strived to battle people’s misconceptions by positioning myself as an asset. In every role I’ve held, I worked hard to learn as much as I could about the business goals of the organization and how I could positively impact them. In every job, it’s important for you to take a step back and evaluate how you can best contribute, individually and as a team member.

My advice to young women in the workforce is to be proactive and advocate for yourselves. The culture is shifting towards favoring the success-oriented as more young people enter the workplace. If you want a raise, a speaking opportunity, expanded opportunities, etc. - ask for it. You may be met with a “no” or “not at this time”, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. I also recommend increasing your awareness of what’s going on in the market; once you’ve conquered the subject matter, you’ll feel more confident in driving conversations and define yourself as a valuable resource.

I was fortunate to be able to take the approach that I took. I didn’t wait for anyone to give me permission to advance my career or for others to present opportunities to me. As previous generations of women have learned, if you wait, then they’ll likely never happen. I advise women to set ambitious (but realistic) goals and then run -don’t walk -to pursue them.

I was also never shy about asking for what I wanted and felt that being unafraid to use my voice was another asset that helped me advance in my career. When you find your authentic voice and are true to yourself, it shows. For me, that means being passionate, frank, and trustworthy. Knowing your voice and wielding it as a resource will help you navigate the situations where people may attempt to question your skills or abilities.

These experiences, unfortunately, are not unique to me; they are shared by many women within this industry. I’ve found that the best approach—though admittedly trying at times—is having perspective. It’s important to come to a situation with an understanding of perspective. Ask yourself, how can you fit into the equation and influence it for the better? How can you expand the dialogue and have a more positive impact? While it shouldn’t be on you to shift the narrative, how you react positions you as a change agent with the ability to navigate tricky situations.

It is, however, because of the times my role and leadership were doubted, that I know the importance of being an ally. I believe that no one should be made to feel small or as if their opinion doesn’t add value to the organizational mission. That’s why I drew from my experiences to build a platform to transform traditional ideas of leadership and uplift others in their role.

By taking an approach that values inclusivity and focuses on empowering others, Government Marketing University provides a place for all to share their knowledge and experience. Through this collaborative experience, peers help to support one another and shape one another into the leaders of tomorrow rather than tearing one another down.

Stephanie Geiger is is the co-founder and executive vice president of Government Marketing University. GMarkU and Washington Technology are owned by the same parent company, GovExec.