Writer and broadcaster Mary Ann Sieghart joined Amber Rudd, former Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to talk about Sieghart’s latest book The Authority GapWhy women are still taken less seriously than men, and what we can do about it, in our latest ‘In Conversation’ event.

The pair shared their top tips on how to address and counteract systemic sexism:

Ladle oodles of warmth
MAS: ‘The one thing I found through my research is that the only way women can successfully convey authority without being disliked or rejected, is by ladling oodles of warmth on top of everything they do, particularly when they’re dealing with men. So if you’re going to be competent, confident and assertive, you have to smile a lot, you have to use humour, you have to be very careful not to humiliate them in public. It can be quite exhausting – but it’s the only thing that works in my view.’

Be seen
AR: ‘You’ve got to be seen. You’ve got to find a way of arranging your life so that you are seen and heard, because you won’t just get noticed for being competent, unless you are also confident. To be a leader, you’ve got to show that you’re out there, better than everybody else and being able to deliver it.’

Practise public speaking
AR: ‘I would urge everybody to get as much practise public speaking as they can. It is not as intimidating and scary as some people think, and it’s important if you want to get on in life to be able to have the confidence to do public speaking, and to pick yourself up when you make a mistake.’

Deal with confrontation in private
AR: ‘If people are challenging your authority in a big group you can’t let it pass, but I’m not a person who has a fight in front of other people. So I’d always make that person stay afterwards for a conversation, and everyone else going out would say “Oof, she’s in for some trouble”, or “He’s gonna get a telling off”. Then I sit down with them – they will, by that point, be rather nervous – and explain to them why they’ve made a mistake, raising that issue, or raising it in that tone and I expected more. It worked much better because then that person actually hears the argument and understands it. They haven’t been humiliated in front of everybody else, and they are your ally going forward.’

Engage with everybody
AR: ‘You have to be careful not to make enemies on the way. So don’t ignore anybody, thank everybody along the way. Engage everybody by asking for their views, don’t look over their shoulders. Just being more thoughtful about other people makes a difference.’

Reinforce other women, and they will do the same for you
AR: ‘I found myself instinctively reinforcing other women and I felt that the other women did the same to me, listened more carefully, engaged with the topic much more.’