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.Maia Grecco

Are you ready for your close-up? While videoconferencing has become the standard mode of business communication in the pandemic era, many women would rather not go on camera.

Zoom fatigue is real and it impacts more women than men. A 2021 study of more than 10,000 study participants found women are more vulnerable to mirror anxiety – heightened self-focus when you are forced to constantly look at yourself – and hyper gaze – the discomfort of being stared at by many people. Plus, women tend to have longer video meetings with shorter breaks in between them.

Jennifer Singh is CEO of She’s Newsworthy Media, a Toronto-based company that helps women entrepreneurs leverage their expert status for media interviews. Ms. Singh says she sees the toll that onscreen time has taken on women in business.

“I do a lot of video calls with potential new clients,” she says. “I had somebody last week show up and say, ‘I’m not turning on my camera, my hair looks bad.’”

It’s not about vanity, Ms. Singh says. “As women, we are very conscious of the fact that we live in a visual society, and that we are constantly being judged by our appearance.”

Online sessions can amplify gender imbalances, she says. “[Women] get spoken over in virtual rooms and it creates a lot of pressure and anxiety.” In person, women can walk away or signal to an ally in the room. “When it happens in a virtual space, we have less control. It’s more embarrassing.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are Ms. Singh’s insights for making your on-camera time look and feel a lot better:

Behind the scenes

As workplaces move to hybrid, likely permanently, Ms. Singh says women will have to embrace being on camera. “People need to level up their tech skills and their camera skills,” she says. Her tips for a better experience include:

• Get your camera up to eye level. If people can see up your nose, that’s just never good.

• Avoid backlighting so colleagues can see your face properly. Use artificial lights as natural light shifts with the weather and the seasons.

• “As cringeworthy as it might be, record a session and go back and watch yourself,” says Ms. Singh. Note any filler words you overuse, whether you speak too fast or you bob your head or fidget too much.

Changing the script

Technical tweaks only go so far. Ms. Singh says many women have damaging internal monologues that tell them they’re not good enough.

“Tell yourself that you’re there to make an impact and a connection,” she says. “When you shift your mindset, you shift the way you show up.”

Making lists of things you love about yourself or a list of what you contribute to your job can help, as can repeating positive affirmations, says Ms. Singh.

“While women are judged on camera for every little thing, if you can make changes and get people to focus on what you have to say and not what you look like, they will hear your message.”

Ask Women and Work

Have a question about your work life? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.

Question: The majority of my workmates are parents. I am the only one on my team who is still single and child-free. Because of this, I feel like I am expected to work longer hours and pick up the slack when they need to dash off to pick up their kids. How can I let my boss (who herself has children) understand that I feel taken advantage of?

We asked Gurpreet Kaur Mann, CEO of HR Superhero in Brampton, Ont., to field this one:

The key thing I picked up on in this submission was that the writer said, ‘I feel like I’m expected to work longer hours.’ Unless you’ve had a clear conversation with your boss and they have set that expectation, don’t assume. Sometimes managers aren’t even aware that this kind of thing is happening until you actually sit down and walk them through it.

However, if your manager is expecting you to work more than eight hours on a regular basis, that’s not fair practice. We have labour laws governing how long people can work in Canada, but beyond the law, if you’re being singled out because you don’t have kids, that workplace is not inclusive. I would say the same thing to a parent being asked to put in too many hours. As an individual, you have the power to set healthy boundaries at work.

When you sit down to speak to your boss, I would be careful not to point fingers. I always say, start with something positive and then slowly ease into what you really want to talk about. And then propose solutions.

For example, you could say, ‘I love the work we do. I’m a team player and I understand that some of my colleagues have to pick up their kids, and I’m happy to help out occasionally if there are tight deadlines. But I have been regularly working extra hours and I don’t think it’s fair.’

One of the solutions could be more flexible schedules so people can work around their personal commitments, or more flexible deadlines. The truth is, if employees are having to work more than eight hours a day to meet deadlines, your employer has a staffing issue and they need to hire.

Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on the hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback on the series? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.

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