As part of Coyne’s celebration of Women’s History Month, I had the opportunity to moderate a roundtable discussion with several of the agency’s female leadership team who shared their experiences and lessons learned in navigating the workplace challenges women face in reaching their career goals and leadership roles. With women making up about two-thirds of the public relations workforce, but holding only 30% of the top leadership positions in the field, this discussion is particularly relevant to our industry. The women who joined me in this conversation were Jenn Kamienski, Executive VP; Lisa Wolleon, Executive VP; Linda Bernstein Jasper, Senior VP; Sue Murphy, Senior VP and Michelle Abril, VP.

Here are some thoughts and take-aways from the roundtable:

“I would encourage every woman to speak up… in a meeting, in a brainstorm, don’t be afraid to have your voice heard because you’ve got something important to say. I think everyone has that in them, but they may just not be projecting it.” Lisa Wolleon

Speaking up can be hard for women to do. There are times when men’s voices overpower a room and women’s are dismissed. But women who speak with passion and confidence earn both attention and respect. Even if you may at times be seen by some as too loud, too pushy or too emotional, in the long-run your commitment, expertise and contributions will be acknowledged and rewarded.

“I was always told it’s a man’s world, women have to work harder. You have to be twice as smart. You have to be twice as qualified. I feel like in my own life, I’ve always had that ingrained in me.” Sue Murphy

No matter how capable a woman is, she often feels she needs to do more to prove her worth. While women should not have to work harder or be better than men to get ahead, that strong work ethic many women possess can be a real advantage for achieving success in your career.

“I’m a ‘sorry-er’ and I don’t even know why. It’s just kind of second nature. We want everyone to feel comfortable so we start with an apology even when we haven’t done anything wrong. We have to get comfortable with people feeling uncomfortable.”  Jenn Kamienski

Women need to stop apologizing in the workplace when they’ve done nothing wrong. Starting off a conversation or an email with “I’m sorry” puts you at a disadvantage. It undermines people’s confidence in you and their perception of your competence. It’s a habit we need to break. The easiest place to start is by eliminating it from your emails where you can hit delete as soon as you find yourself typing it out.

“Emotion is like a fire. It can ignite your passion, but it can also burn you to the ground if you don’t use it effectively.” Linda Bernstein Jasper

Woman can be unfairly pegged as being difficult when we’re angry or overly emotional when we show we’re upset. Being adamant or passionate is a sign that you care about your work and your workmates, and expressing your feelings shows you’re comfortable bringing your real self to the workplace. Those are qualities that should be appreciated and encouraged. But letting your emotions get out of control can be toxic, particularly for women. If you feel things are getting too heated, that you might say or do something you’ll regret – it’s best to remove yourself from a situation – take a step back – ask for a five-minute break to bring the temperature down and regain control.

“I’m a single mom and my child is in aftercare so my team knows I have to leave at 5pm to make sure I pick him up on time but they also know I’m working late at night and on weekends… but then you do have that mom guilt.” Michelle Abril

That work-life balance can be difficult to attain. There’s no way not to be pulled between home and work responsibilities and at times feel you’re not giving the best of yourself to either. Finding that balance requires setting guardrails and being diligent about holding to them. When you’re at work, you work hard but when it’s time to be with your family – you shut down your laptop and avoid checking work emails. If it’s a crisis, of course you need to respond, but when it’s not – which is most of the time – it can wait. Good managers provide that flexibility and understanding. They also must recognize that even if you’re young and single, you should not be working endless hours. Everyone needs to have a life and interests outside of work or it’s sure to end in burnout.

Additionally, take advantage of flextime and work-from home policies, like those offered at Coyne. Working from home a day or more a week may be what you need to help keep your life in balance. And make sure to build in some much needed “me” time while you’re at it. You can’t be good at caring for others or your work without self-care.