I wrote a little rant on LinkedIn the other day having heard same story from several of my female coachees within the space of a couple of months:
Dear male leaders, please stop telling your female colleagues they need to be “more visible” to gain promotion into leadership.
It’s a vague piece of feedback that contains nothing tangible anyone can respond to. Worse, you’re most often asking them to do this in an environment where men are dominating the conversations. It’s code for “be louder.”
But, you know, another way for women to be more visible and be heard? It is for men to be quieter. Try shutting up instead.
It garnered a lot of attention plus a couple of trolls (though a surprisingly small percentage) and I wanted to add a bit more clarification.
It was intended to be blunt and thus over-simplistic, but judging by the comments, it resonated with many, not just women.
Of course, this is not just about binary genders. People being “not visible enough” reveals tensions and biases across the gender, race, personality, age, body, neurodiversity, background spectrum, to name just a few.
The equally important part is that it is vague and unhelpful feedback that doesn’t contain anything tangible the recipient can do something about. This is universal.
It also doesn’t bother to consider the question, “Why isn’t this person more visible?” That should lead to asking “Am I/are we just blind to them or are they hindered from being more visible because they are not given the space or don’t feel safe doing so?” The answers to those will lead to more actionable changes for both the recipient of that feedback and for the organisation.
Finally, I’m not speaking from a position of holier than thou—ex-colleague will confirm I’m guilty of talking too much all too often. And the irony is not lost on me that I’m a cis, white, middle-aged male doing the talking here, but let’s try to use that mic to be proactive allies.
Several commenters made excellent comments with great advice that are well worth reading.