I hear it again and again from women I work with… “I make a comment or suggest an idea and nothing happens. Then a man suggests the same idea five minutes later and everyone says, ‘good idea!” We could go down a road of looking how society diminishes or makes invisible women’s voices. But I have a juicier place to look: how YOU are creating that dynamic.

I’d invite you to listen to your own language with a keen ear for the next week. See if you can hear how you publically disqualify your own ideas or thoughts. You might be amazed at how frequently you are your own worst enemy when it comes to taking yourself seriously. And practically speaking, if you don’t…why should we?

I’ve come to appreciate how women – myself included – have been encultured to create kind of a verbal “soggy sandwich”, so that the substance in the middle gets lost or watered down to mush. Here’s how it typically looks: we start a sentence with a disqualifier such as “This might be a crazy idea…” or “You’ll probably think I’m off the wall for suggesting this…” or “I’m sure I’m the only one who feels this way, but…” Then we share our insightful thought or bright idea. Finally, we finish it off with a straggly ending, often tapering it off to the point of just muttering: “…told you it was out there…” or “…but that’s just my two cents…”

The impact of this is that people stop listening before you’ve even began sharing your thoughts. If you think about it, why would they after that stellar beginning, eh? And if you did successfully hook someone with what was undoubtedly a sound idea or valid point, your straggling ending loosens their tenuous hold on it like a slippery noodle. They literally can’t recall what you’ve said amidst all those other soggy words.

Do we do this ALL the time? Not at all. Nor am I suggesting we do. But, I would wage a bet that you do this more often than you realize. Test it out. Enlist the support of a trusted colleague or friend to track your comments over the course of a week and see what you can learn. Then laugh it off and move along. In my experience, once you realize what you’re doing to detract from your own impact, you will catch yourself as it happens and will correct it. Eventually you will catch yourself before it happens, and voila! You’re there!

I feel passionately about this because we are at a time in our history where women – what they think, experience and have to say – are being called forth more and more to center stage. There is a window of opportunity for women to advance themselves – and the world. But this will require us to take ourselves seriously and to get our voices out there – crisply and cleanly, no holds barred. As Maddie Dychtwald writes in her new book Influence, “This is moment historians will look back on, pointing their fingers and tracing the era on timelines for students of the future: See it there! See the rise of the woman at the dawn of the twenty-first century! …The lightning’s moving closer; the storm is about to break….but this moment won’t last forever.”