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If you want to be heard during meetings, be clear, be candid, be caring, be consistent and be concise.Getty Images

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Ask Women and Work

Question: How can I get my point across without being perceived as pushy or bossy? I’m having challenges with people at work not listening to me or taking me seriously as a leader.

We asked Allison Alley, president and CEO at charitable organization Compassion Canada, to tackle this one:

I think the first step is to be clear and consistent about what matters to you, what people can expect from you and what you expect from your team.

For example, one of the things I’ve been unwaveringly clear and consistent about with our staff is that we need to be, on the one hand, people-focused and committed to being a healthy organization, but also purpose-focused and committed to being a high-performing organization. Those two things must exist at the same time, and they are not mutually exclusive.

It’s important to teach your staff to understand polarities and to manage those tensions with you. You can care personally for people but also challenge them directly. You can be clear and direct, but also kind and warm. I actually think women are really well-positioned to do to this – to bring the nurturing and care, but also the intellect and the challenge.

When I stepped into my role five years ago, we as an executive team created a kind of blueprint of shared communication and conflict norms. It tells everyone in advance: Here is how we’re going to show up, here is what is allowable and not allowable. Here is what we expect from one another. It provides the parameters for how we communicate and work through hard things.

For example, when it comes to communication, our norms include: Be clear, be candid, be caring, be consistent and be concise. For conflict, we have things such as: Commit to dialogue. Commit to being assertive, not passive or aggressive. Commit to avoiding things like silence and withholding, or violence and forcing.

It’s a live document that we look at once a year as an executive team and ask, ‘How is this working? What are we missing? Are we serving one another and the organization well enough with these norms or do we need to adapt them?’

We also have lots of permissions as a team. So, permission for a timeout, like, ‘Hey, that was a false start on that conversation,’ or ‘Hey, that this has kind of gone off the rails.’ Let’s bring it back or let’s call the break.

One favourite book that I read recently is called A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman. He talks about the need for a leader to be able to differentiate themselves from their team. So, to be effective as a leader in a moment of chaos or challenge, you need to be down in the mess with your people, but you need to separate yourself enough from their emotions to rise above it mentally, to see what is objectively true and guide that next step forward.

In conflict, we will often tell ourselves victim and villain stories – I’m a victim of something, they are the villain – instead of objectively saying what is true. Choose to believe the best and have trust in your team, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted or sidelined by those stories.

Submit your own questions to Ask Women and Work by e-mailing us at

This week’s must-read stories on women and work

Fear of losing flexibility has women less likely to change jobs, survey shows

Even as the pay gap narrows, employed women are less likely to feel their employer offers opportunities for career growth, yet they’re also less likely to look for a new job, largely out of fear of losing flexible work perks.

Those are the findings of a recent survey conducted by recruiting firm Robert Half Canada. It found 56 per cent of employed women feel their employer provides ample opportunity for career growth, compared with 72 per cent of men. At the same time, 35 per cent of women are considering a job change, compared with half of the men surveyed.

The primary factor women cited for not seeking a new employer is fear of losing their current level of flexibility, with 44 per cent citing it as their top concern, compared with 30 per cent of men.

“Women today are happier than they’ve been in, maybe forever, because their No. 1 biggest priority is flexibility for their family, and they’re getting that more than ever,” says Robert Half Canada regional director Sandra Lavoy.

Read why flexibility trumps everything, as long as women have equal pay.

Unveiling the motivation mystery: Four strategies to succeed through the 9-5 grind

“Imagine the bustling landscape of a corporate setting, where ambitious professionals navigate the maze of their 9-5 routines,” says certified coach and facilitator Kadine Cooper. “Behind the façade of productivity, a silent struggle unfolds – a struggle with motivation. Surveys and studies corroborate what I’ve witnessed firsthand: a significant portion of individuals in their 30s find themselves wrestling with lack of clarity and motivation as they pursue their career aspirations.

“Interestingly, recent research published in the Journal of Research in Personality challenges conventional wisdom regarding motivation and obstacles. Led by psychologist Marina Milyavskaya of Carleton University in Ottawa, this study suggests that it’s not the obstacles themselves but rather our motivation that determines the challenges we face in achieving our goals.

“Ms. Milyavskaya distinguishes between two types of motivation: ‘want-to’ motivation, driven by personal interest and values, and ‘have-to’ motivation, fuelled by external pressures or obligations.”

Read how “want-to” motivation can make goals more achievable.

Most workers want to return, but offices aren’t designed for the work they want to do there

Most workers want to come into the office to collaborate, ideate and connect with colleagues, but most offices aren’t built for that kind of work to be done.

Those are the findings from software company Cisco Canada’s Reimagining Workspaces Survey, which shows why workspaces must adapt to meet the evolving needs and expectations of employees.

“Most offices still aren’t quite ready to create an environment for people to have the best experience that they can have, so there’s still work to be done on reimagining what those workspaces look like,” says Cisco Canada president Shannon Leininger. She says with hybrid work, focused, solo work can be done at home and when workers come to the office, they are looking for a different experience.

Read why offices should be more like “communities” that allow for social interaction.

In case you missed it

A four-day work week sounds great in theory, but does it work in practice?

The four-day work week has attracted a lot of attention in recent years as organizations rethink their practices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early evidence suggests that employees like it; according to a 2023 report from York University analyzing data from 30 Canadian firms employing 3,500 workers, 96 per cent reported happier and healthier workplaces after adopting a four-day work week. The study also found that shortened work schedules “significantly reduced feelings of burnout and job stress for women.”

But do these benefits extend to business performance, revenue and customer satisfaction? Some organizations say it’s helped them attract business and expand operations, attributing those positive results to contented staff. (Notably, in all the examples here, staff salaries remained unchanged despite the reduction in work days.)

As Leena Yousefi, CEO at Vancouver-based law firm YLaw, says, “No employer is going to implement something that they think is not going to make them money.”

Read the full article.

From the archives

Freezing at the office? You’re not alone – and it may make you less productive

At Ginella Massa’s old job, the last thing she thought she’d need at her desk was a Snuggie. Yet somehow, the zebra-striped blanket with sleeves made an appearance every single day.

“I always know [that] as soon as the warm weather hits, I have to start thinking about dressing for two climates,” says Ms. Massa, a TV news anchor based in Toronto. “Because it might be summer outside, but it’s always absolutely freezing inside the office. And that’s been the case at multiple jobs that I have worked.”

Ms. Massa’s experience may sound familiar. At least anecdotally, women have long complained that office temperatures are simply too cold, especially in the summer months.

“I certainly wasn’t the only one, because I’ve had my Snuggie stolen,” Ms. Massa says. “My friend who sat behind me also had her designated desk shawl.”

Read the full article.

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