Someone seriously asked me this shortly after I began my role as the President and CEO of a nonprofit organization that serves southeast Michigan. Age, gender, and leadership are three areas that I grapple with every day.
I am often one of the few women in the room, and at age 33, I am almost always the youngest person in the room. Initially, I struggled with how to build credibility among my colleagues and juggle responding to deeply personal questions about my life.
Being uncomfortable in social situations was definitely new to me. I tend to be on the more extroverted side of things and have always been pretty comfortable in my own skin. It took some time, but eventually I realized that in order to build credibility I needed to be comfortable with myself. I also started challenging myself to “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg would say. Rather than being quiet in meetings, I made a concerted effort to ask questions and speak up.
At conferences and meetings I also make a point of introducing myself to people that I do not know rather than staying within my social and work circles.
All of these things, plus the opportunity for individuals to see my work, have helped to build credibility among my colleagues. It’s definitely not always, especially in situations where it seems that everyone has known each other for 20 years, but I continue to try and push myself.
I encourage you to try and push yourself in situations where you might feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. Some tips that have helped me include making sure I say at least one comment at every meeting that I attend or introducing myself to at least one new person.
Monique Stanton is a supporter of “A Beautiful Me®” and the President & CEO of CARE of Southeastern Michigan. www.careofsem.com