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6 Ways To Get Taken Seriously at Work

How to get taken seriously at work

When you’re the youngest person in the room, or in the minority in some way, or just new to your role and trying to make the best impression possible, sometimes it feels like you aren’t being taken seriously at work.

I often hear from people who worry about not being considered a serious player in the office.  Young women seem to suffer the most – at least, I’m most aware of it affecting that group – but it seems to hit everyone at some point.

Getting taken seriously at the office is something that you can work on. It isn’t always easy to build a sense of gravitas (especially when faced with more senior colleagues) but you can get better at coming across in a way that makes people take you more seriously.

Here are tips from 6 experts to try.

1.   Spot What’s Not Appropriate

“Identify negative, non-professional behaviours towards you and call them for what they are,” says Vlad Zachary, CEO of “Often male colleagues and bosses are not aware and would be willing to change.”

It’s certainly worth pointing out to them when you realise that their behaviour is not professional and contributing to keeping you down.  Zachary also suggests learning about the ‘Ritual Conflict’, which is often the intimidating part of the male interactions at the workplace.  “See if you can adapt or even use this type of interaction to your advantage,” he says.

In my view, if you call out a behaviour and don’t get a positive reaction, then it might be time to change workplaces.

2.   Always Act Appropriately Yourself

Don’t force other people to say grace with you at work dinners.  Don’t answer the phone unless you can spare the time to give the caller your full attention for the duration.  Don’t decorate your desk with inappropriate things.

These, and many other bits of advice on how to get taken seriously at work, come from Ann Marie Sabath’s book, .  “Maintain confidentiality,” she says.  “Treat your electronic correspondence with the same respect that you do any business letter or memo.  Refrain from sharing or forwarding e-mail unless given permission to do so by the original sender.”

3.   Look the Part

Looking right for the situation is really important.  No one will take you seriously if you turn up to a meeting in a track suit – unless you’re a sports coach.  “Young women need to slow down their walk and talk,” says Debra Benton, an executive coach and author of .

She also advises keeping your head level, not tilted to one side (something I have difficulty with), and not bobbing along either.  But it’s more than just body language – how you dress is also important.  Women should “dress to the level above who they report to,” she says, without letting their dress be more interesting then they are. Look out for how women at your boss’s level and higher dress and take your cues from them.

Having said that, Kat Griffin from the fab website Corporette was interviewed for Business Insider and she said that advice is out of date. I’m inclined to think that she has a point. Look at what people above you are wearing and then use your professional judgement and a bit of common sense to see whether that’s something you can copy or not.

This is a great video about the power of body language: it doesn’t just affect how others see you, it changes how you see yourself.

4.   Watch What You Say… and How You Say It

Betty-Ann Heggie, a former senior executive with the world’s largest fertiliser company, has some advice based on her own experience.  “Women in management positions need to work much harder than their male counterparts to be taken seriously,” she says.  “Recognising that women, especially young women, will speak with uncertainty, raising their voices at the end of each sentence, I made sure that I always spoke with conviction, even if unsure,” she says.  “Since research shows that we listen best to those who are most like us, I used a very masculine communication style to project my ideas. I didn’t allow myself to be interrupted and I peppered my language with military words and sports metaphors.”

Oh dear. I really don’t want to have to learn the off-side rule to get myself understood at meetings. Still, Heggie has a point about using the words that you need to get understood – which usually means toning down your project jargon for the audience, and using terms that are meaningful to them.

5.   Don’t be Emotional

“The typical way to look at women who lack confidence is that it’s due to something peculiar to women: maybe it’s their brains or their hormones, or at least the psychology of being female, that makes them downgrade their own abilities and accomplishments,” says Alice Adams, author of , and Vice President of Common Ground Consulting, which focuses on workforce diversity education.

“I think it’s a lot simpler than that, and that anyone, man or woman, who’s assumed to be a lightweight has a harder time getting ahead,” she says.  “Of course that kind of struggle affects confidence level. Qualified women really aren’t taken as seriously as their male colleagues—many studies bear that out—so they’re more likely to have to deal with the emotional fallout of being held back, including a realistic reduction in their confidence about whether they’ll be able to fulfill their ambitions.”  Adams should know about the research; she’s the former Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Maine Farmington.

It’s not practical to stop being a woman at work, but you can stop beating yourself up about it. You have to learn to come to terms with the perceptions others might have of you and deal with it.

“Many women cope with all that by instituting a practice of regular, rational self-assessments, and giving more weight to that than to the less predictable reactions of colleagues or superiors,” Adams explains. Sounds sensible to me.

how to do networking ebook6.   Network – in a Work-Related Way

“Don’t let your social networks define you at work,” says James Lee, President of the Lee Strategy Group. “Eliminate provocative poses in pictures and cut the pop culture references on your feeds.” You’ve done that already, right?

Get your privacy settings right too. “Build a work view on your social networks,” Lee advises.  “Become activist on non-profit and business-related causes and Fan Pages [on Facebook]. Share links on articles of interest.”

Lee is another one who advises learning the management bonding language of sports. I was once advised to learn how to play golf for networking purposes by a senior manager – and I left that team soon afterwards. You can find office cultures that don’t rely on you having to know the scores from weekend matches.

Not sure how to network? Grab my ebook on how to do it in real life.

Don’t Be Crushed by Imposter Syndrome

imposter syndrome ebookNot being taken seriously, combined with the feeling that you really don’t know if you deserve your success (that’s Imposter Syndrome), conspire to make women less successful at work than they really should be.

You’re responsible for overcoming that. The bottom line – in my opinion – is that if you aren’t taken seriously, and you know you are doing all the right things, then that company isn’t for you. Don’t struggle to change organisational culture on a one-woman crusade.  Find somewhere where you can flourish, and where people treat you in the professional way you expect.

Start by building your personal confidence and crushing Imposter Syndrome. My 100+ page ebook will help with the strategies you need to start owning your place at the table.

How to get taken seriously at work

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. In the interview I was told I looked too nice. I may be a small blonde but I can certainly get my point across firmly if needed. I’m older than my boss and the only native English speaker. Mostly surrounded by men so it’s an uphill battle. Got hired to make sweeping changes but when trying to implement them, I’m told no. It’s frustrating for women and change occurs slowly.

  2. Very worthy article. As a woman, I know its very difficult to survive in a new job but as per experience if your team lead or manager has good behavior and supportive then it not that difficult.

  3. Being taken seriously is important for young professionals. Working with colleagues who are older or more experienced means you often have to prove yourself.

  4. The tips to getting the work seriously is very helpful. Thank you for sharing this. A great article to read on.

  5. A perspective from the other side if you don’t mind.

    “To be taken seriously at work” means to build your authority. Your professional authority with each colleague.

    You can not build it by just behaving, acting or dressing in a right way. The only good way is to produce value for your organisation, your manager, or any given man or woman. What is more important you need to be sure you bring value that the person or a group perceives as valuable.

    For a company (read CEO or whatever) it might be a successfully finished project or their minimal involvement with your tasks etc. For a “male manager,” it can be something really different. He might not be interested in a project or work at all. Independence in work, appreciation, or may be just as little as a personal small talk. It is something you need to find out.

    Once you build enough of the valuable asset, here is where you need to start behaving acting correctly. The word about your professional ability to produce the value should be spread. By others. Not by you.

    So it’s like with a salary rise. There two types:
    1. Increase my salary and I will be motivated, will do this and that. You will like it.
    2. I have done this and that. It brought tonnes of benefits. Increase my salary.

    You need to be second type. First help for 101 times, then ask (expect) for recognition.

    And yes, there are cases when you can not do anything at all. But it is rare.

    • Dmitriy, I agree that you can’t “just” get authority as a project manager by dressing a certain way (although many jobs do confer authority via a dress code e.g. a police officer) but you can produce value and still be overlooked for promotion if your managers (male or female) do not consider you a credible candidate. For example, you can be one of the top performers in the company but not give the right message to clients. Would you want to send someone who didn’t wash and dressed poorly to your top client meeting, even if you knew they were knowledgeable about their subject? Unfortunately, societal norms mean that these perceptions and judgements exist about men and women and success.
      You are right in that we need to ask for recognition. Oftentimes, people expect others to notice their performance and success and that doesn’t happen. Ask!

  6. While these are all great points, I’d like to also offer that quite often these are used as criticisms against women, even when we are following all the rules. It’s a little disheartening to see advice for women that is still from the perspective of “blaming the victim” so to speak.

    This is similar to advice to women about how not to get raped – it misses the larger problem that many of the things that make women strong and capable are seen as negative in the workplace. The problem isn’t that women aren’t worth of being taken seriously – the problem is that the concept of what “serious” means is so tailored to traditionally masculine ways of operating, and even when women embody those traits they are seen as overbearing and bossy.

    This is still great advice, just take it with a grain of salt, and don’t assume that if you aren’t being taken seriously that it’s because you aren’t doing enough of the above. Many times the problem isn’t with you.

    • Thanks, Briana. That’s a valuable point of view. If you come to the conclusion that there is nothing more you can do and the problem is not with you, that gives you very limited options for career progression in that job. If that is the case, and you can’t influence your current environment, would you agree that your best course of action is to start looking for another role?

      • Totally agree, and in fact that is what I’ve had to do. Just left a job of 10 years because of a startling lack of opportunities for women. The few women PMs that managed to make it through the ranks invariably were “encouraged” to take over “softer” positions in HR and administration because they weren’t taken seriously as PMs.

        I’ve now found a position with a company whose management includes a diverse group of men and women, and the change in tone is palpable.

        Just wanted to point out that it’s entirely possible you’re doing everything right and still not being taken seriously. I think we often critique ourselves more harshly than others, and at least in my case, I spent far too many years chasing after how to improve myself to be taken more seriously before realizing it wasn’t even about me.

  7. Through personal experience I can confirm that low self confidence, feelings of being an imposter etc, also occur in men. It is not due to hormones or anything silly like that. However tempting it is, don’t feel sorry for yourself. I’ve found this doesn’t work. Take little steps every day to build confidence. Don’t be a perfectionist. You’re allowed to have bad days. Keep bashing away, pulling hard. Don’t moan to colleagues. If you have concerns, talk to someone trusted, in private. Try and be as specific as possible.
    [This advice is as much for myself as anyone else!]

  8. Betty-Ann, you are absolutely right! No one comes without baggage. Maybe he’s just having a bad day, or maybe there’s something else at play, but just because it’s said doesn’t make it true.

  9. Nancy – I hope that it does end for you, it sounds as if you have had a difficult career juggling people’s perceptions. I expect you have considered your options for moving to a different workplace in the hope that the atmosphere is more professional. How you dress can have a impact on your assets, as I’m sure you know. I like this blog about dressing well, and is also excellent.

  10. I decided the title of my memoir will be my life as a DDD! Any yes that is my bra size. The biggest problem I have in the office is managing my male managers. It’s mostly the married men managers who have learned the ropes from years of sexual harassment training that I need to manage. Persistent and charming the attention is difficult to deal with. It undermines my confidence because I never really know if the “good” job I am doing is really good. I need to develop the relationship, to be a part of the team and yet I walk a tight rope of sending the wrong message while setting strict boundaries. I can’t be too distant or my team suffers and I can’t be too friendly or I could find myself in a very difficult situation, possibly unsafe. It can be exhausting and there doesn’t appear to be much I can do about it. Thankfully I am no longer young and have grown a thick skin yet I never thought I’d still be dealing with this as a middle aged woman, will it end when I am a senior?

    • Dear DDD: The only thing age appears to do is make you more invisible as far as being competent at your job title. I do not have experience as a PM, but I do have experience as a Project Lead and have written co-authored manuals on Project Management with a veteran in the field.. On the other hand (speaking as a woman), I do however remember being in my 20’s and the only required skill for any position was how I looked. Once I knew their true intentions, I ended the interview and excused myself from the pool of applicants. Up until the age of 52, the same problem occurred. To answer your question more thoroughly, I am now in my 60’s and while my competencies improved, I am still judged on my looks and my age once again, this time in a more negative light. I do not understand why intelligence in woman is judged so differently than a man, other than perception based on negative stereotypes. I wish I knew how to be the change.

  11. Great food for thought here for women. Thanks for that. I especially liked the advice in your 5th point (beside the fact that you quoted me in number 4, of course). Self-assessment is very valuable. When I was inappropriately criticized I would repeat to myself, “Its not me, its him”. I would analyze all the things that made him that way and “consider the source”.


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