How to turn being soft to your advantage

"I won't be taken seriously in the first 90 seconds when I walk into a room - and that's okay," says Sayeh Ghanbari, lead partner for EY UK&I business consulting.

by Orianna Rosa Royle
Last Updated: 23 Oct 2020

Feeling like a mouse in a meeting room full of elephants isn’t uncommon for working women. Being physically smaller, more likely to lowball their own abilities and get penalised when speaking up in the workplace, women are often overlooked (and literally looked down on). 

At less than five foot three and with a “name people struggle to pronounce”, Sayeh Ghanbari, lead partner for EY UK&I business consulting, says she’s succeeding “in a world that is not designed for me”.

Ghanbari believes the key to female career progression - she became  a partner at just 35 - is taking not physically towering over men in meetings in their stride.


“I don't walk into a room with any sort of towering presence. So, for me, it's about accepting that's the case - accepting that I am not going to be taken seriously in the first 90 seconds when I walk into a room.  

“That's okay, I'm not going to beat myself up over it. Instead, I combine that acceptance with confidence. Those two things together are so critical for really progressing as a woman in the business world.

“Firstly, as a smaller woman, it's absolutely a lot easier for me to have a very difficult business negotiation or to resolve a very thorny issue, as I don't get into a sort of an ego competition that men can get into. It’s important to think about how you can play being soft and hard at the same time to your advantage.

“Confidence also comes in knowing that the moment I get an opportunity to speak up, I'm good at my job, I know what I'm doing and I have something to contribute. Therefore, I have a right to be there. 

“But if you're not in an organisation that recognises your talents and listens when you speak up, you should leave. There's no point in beating your head against the wall.”

Image courtesy of EY

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