How to take your place at the table and make your voice heard

Autodesk Life 7 min read

Have you ever joined a meeting and thought, “how can I make my voice heard?” Many of us struggle to speak up at work – but ensuring your voice is heard at the table is crucial for career success.

We recently partnered with Fairygodboss for a conversation on how to develop a strong sense of self-advocacy and share your value in the workplace, featuring three of our female leaders:

Stephanie Graf is Vice President, Named Accounts, North America, based in Golden, Colorado. She began her tenure with Autodesk more than 15 years ago and currently leads the Named Accounts sales teams in North America for all industries. She is responsible for strengthening our focus on high-value customer relationships, customer outcomes, and high-growth accounts.

Karen Jacobson is Vice President of Commercial Customer Success, based in Garrison, Minnesota. As the leader of the Commercial Customer Success team since 2018, Karen is responsible for driving customer success and renewals for our non-named customers. She has been with Autodesk for more than 20 years and has demonstrated passion and dedication in all her roles.

Elisabeth Zornes is Chief Customer Officer, based in San Francisco, California. She oversees the global teams responsible for all aspects of customer engagement including Consulting, Customer Success, Partner Success, Product Support, and Renewals. During her 20+ year career, one thing has remained constant: She is passionate about the customer and believes positive customer experiences drive revenue growth.

(Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

What does “taking your place at the table and making your voice heard” mean to you?

Stephanie: We don’t want to walk away from a meeting thinking, “I wish I had brought this up,” “I wish I had said this,” or “I wish I had asked this question.” So, it’s a mantra I try to live by: Don’t walk away with things unsaid. We all have fantastic ideas in our heads – bring them up! That’s where some of the best conversations start.

Karen: When I think about this statement, I think it means owning – with confidence – the right you have to be at the table. So often, we sit there and have this narrative in our head, like, “Should I be here?” or “Am I the right person?” But you are. So, make sure you own that confidence and think about the role you play and the responsibility you have for yourself and your organization.

Elisabeth: Seats at the table are not given, they are taken. There is an opportunity for everyone – you’re on the meeting invite for a reason – to actually take that seat and be thoughtful about the role you want to play. Before the meeting, think, “What is the one thing that is important to me that I want to accomplish?” Be prepared and take that seat!

How do you support and empower women to reach their full potential at work and be heard?

Karen: We want to make sure women know about Autodesk and understand the value of working for an organization that really supports women. We have a networking and speaker series with breakout groups to have conversations with other women in the organization on these topics.

We also had a successful luncheon event at our annual sales conference, where we provided a platform for women to share stories of how they were resilient and overcame challenges and barriers in their personal and professional lives. It was unbelievable – I still have chills remembering these stories of some of the challenges they’ve overcome. Being part of organizing that event was incredibly rewarding.

Stephanie: I try to mentor anyone who comes and asks, but I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for women – especially those whom I don’t feel are getting their voices heard, but I know they have great ideas. I’ll help coach them in advance of a meeting, be their advocate in the meeting, make sure they don’t get talked over and their ideas don’t get hijacked as someone else’s, and give them a voice, maybe prompting them to get into the discussion. Having that advocate – whether male or female, it really doesn’t matter – helping those women find their voice in the meeting is important.

What tips do you have for other women to ensure their voices are heard in a virtual environment? Why is it important to speak up in meetings – both virtual and in person?

Stephanie: In virtual meetings, use Zoom’s “raise hand” feature – it starts to train others to not talk over each other, and it also gives you a little time to get your thoughts together. Also, always have your camera on – don’t go just audio, because people think you’re not engaged and won’t notice when you have something to say. Smile and nod your head so they know you’re engaged, and unmute yourself so people notice you might have something to say.

Elisabeth: I believe the virtual environment gives us more opportunities than an in-person meeting might. I think we’ve all had situations where we were in a meeting and two or three people monopolized the conversation, filling all the airwaves, and it was hard to get a word in. Virtual meetings democratize access to the airwaves, as well as visually – all our Zoom windows are the same size, independent of who we are and where we are, so we all have the same opportunity to speak.

Karen: If you don’t speak up, people will create their own narrative on what you think, what you support, what you know, what you don’t know … don’t let anyone write that story for you.

It’s not only making sure your own voice is heard, but also the concept of amplification – if you have other people who are more marginalized, or new to the organization, or women in a primarily male meeting, make sure you’re there to advocate for them as well.

Not everyone receives communication the same way. Do you have any communication tips on working with different personalities or work styles?

Karen: First, make sure you understand your own communication style. Especially when you’re in a stressed environment, that is your trigger. A stressed environment is going to amplify your communication style. Also, don’t assume people know. Tell them your preferred communication style and ask how they prefer to communicate.

We’ve all worked with people where, for whatever reason, our styles don’t sync. Don’t feel like you have to defend all your decisions – especially when you’re working with difficult people. As women, sometimes we feel like we need to win everybody over, but the reality is sometimes it won’t happen. It’s okay for people to say, “We agree to disagree.”

Stephanie: Set an example in a meeting and people will replicate how you behave. Pull out people’s ideas without putting them on the spot. Try to give them the floor, because they might not be the quickest ones to put up their hands and share their ideas. If you can be their ally and advocate and make this part of how you run your meetings, people are going to take notice and replicate that.

Elisabeth: Spend a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting and give everyone a chance to talk – about anything! It could be about a vacation, it could be about the weather, or it could be your favorite meal. It’s been shown that once people start talking in a meeting, they will take the chance again because they’re already part of the group. It’s a tiny investment of time that will open the door for more people to participate.

What advice would you give your younger self if you were able to?

Elisabeth: Dream bigger! It has both parts: “dreaming” – to really envision and think about what might be, and “bigger” – nudging yourself a little, giving yourself permission.

Karen: Don’t forget to take time for yourself. When I started having a family (three children) I put them first, so it was my family, my job, and then sometimes when there was time, there was me. Now more than ever, I realize how better equipped I am at managing and enjoying my life when I take time for myself.

Stephanie: Be your authentic self. Don’t try to behave or dress the way someone else expects you to. I’m old enough to remember the days of women dressing like men (dark suits, light blouses); you’ll notice the dress I’m wearing today is the opposite! Be true to yourself and be confident – your voice deserves to be heard.

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