The image features a young business woman wearing a sleeveless black dress looking pensively away from the camera. She has long dark hair and has her left hand crossed over her waist and her right hand is positioned near her chin. The text reads: episode 40, Empowering Strategies for Women Executives to Harness Their Unique Identities for Success, LivingWhileLeading.com/40

Years ago, I had a role as a regional compliance officer for a large IT company. I was often the only person with my identity in high-level meetings with male Swiss and Austrian CTOs and CFOs.

Imagine me, an Afro-Latina American woman, announcing in German, which is my second language, my intent to audit their company. Upon my announcement, the room would always fall into silence. Which was usually followed by smiling faces and sometimes even applause.

These men had never experienced someone who looks like me speaking their language in a business meeting. I used their surprise to my advantage and without fail, it softened the ground for what could have been an uncomfortable conversation.

Today, we’re going to peel back the layers of what it means to be the ‘only one’ in the room — an experience you’re probably familiar with.

Stay tuned and use this podcast as source of strength to embrace your identity. We’ll explore the complexities that accompany being the ‘only one’ and provide you with reassurance that you are not alone and how you can flip the narrative and use your uniqueness to your advantage.

Find the full transcript and other resources for women leaders at: https://livingwhileleading.com/40

Unique Obstacles of Women Leaders as the Sole Representative in the Room

My relocation to Europe, has often meant that I stand in rooms where my voice carries a distinct American accent, where my skin is a different shade, and where my cultural identity is different from those around me.

There was a time when this made me feel uncomfortable. Have you ever experienced the solitude of being the only person with your identity in a team, business meeting or organization? It can feel incredibly isolating.

Being the ‘only one’ can also carry the responsibility of representation. In the eyes of others, you effectively come to represent those with the same identity as you. This can be a heavy burden to carry.

Every interaction and decision you make seems to be amplified, observed under a microscope of heightened scrutiny, often accompanied by subtle micro-aggressions and unconscious bias.

This journey can mean you navigate spaces where your presence is unavoidably noticeable, and your actions interpreted as reflections of collective identities.

Women Executives Embrace their Uniqueness for Success

But what if you could turn the tables? What if, instead of dwelling on the negatives, you could exploit your unique position to shine?

Being the ‘only one’ means bringing a fresh perspective, authentically owning your differences, creating unexpected connections, and building resilience.

Consider these 3 tips in putting a fresh perspective on being the ‘only one’:

  1. Own your story with pride: Your unique experiences and perspectives are an invaluable asset and can set the stage for genuine connections. Just as I successfully initiated compliance discussions in German to create a positive first impression, search for opportunities to lead with your distinctive qualities. Your identity can open up dialogues that might otherwise remain closed.

  2. Assert your presence boldly: The singular nature of your identity within a given space is a powerful tool. Hold your head high, project your voice with assurance, and claim your space.

    Your contributions are essential and offer a fresh perspective that can further innovation and inspire change. By confidently owning your space, you send a clear message that your insights are as necessary as those from any other member of the team.
  3. Forge alliances with intention: It’s critical to establish supportive connections with colleagues who appreciate what makes you distinct and who are willing to advocate for you. An ally can be a sounding board, a champion, and a collaborator. They’re invaluable in helping to elevate your perspective to a wider audience, ensuring not only that you’re heard but also noticed.

How Women Leaders Can Empower the ‘Only One’ Within the Team

As a leader, you have the power to redefine what being the ‘only one’ signifies within your organization.

Let’s explore how you can effectively encourage and leverage the distinct perspectives diverse team members bring and support them in transforming challenges into opportunities for growth.

If you find yourself as the ‘only one,’ the message is unmistakable. Though your journey is distinctly personal, remember, you’re not alone. Pause and reflect on how you can transform your uniqueness into a strength.

If you’re a leader and notice a team member struggling with the challenges of being the ‘only one,’ step in and provide support.

Remember, you’re the solution to claiming what’s important to you!