If you’re working, it’s more likely you’re a woman. While women make up 50 % of the population, they make up 58% of the workforce.* Yet women are consistently underpaid and under-represented** in the boardroom and the top ranks of business. According to Harvard Business Review, women are better leaders than men, yet they struggle with making it to the top. As a white male, I can empathize with this struggle, but never really understand. As a father with a daughter, I worry but feel helpless.
Not being heard and listened to is reported by women as one of the biggest obstacles they face. Their biggest challenge, how do you make yourself heard? I can’t answer that question, so I asked a panel of successful women to answer the question,
“How do you make yourself heard?”
Why is it so tricky to give advice specifically to women? Why should they have a special treatment? Don’t we all communicate the same way, men or women? Cultural norms shape the way women are perceived and expected to behave. They are invisible traps women fall into when they venture in the public speaking arena. It all starts with what I call the Goldilocks syndrome for women. Too bold, too soft, neither are right! We try to imitate the masculine presentation style and are perceived negatively. We tone down to be more feminine and are perceived less competent.
What’s the way out ?
- Develop an awareness of this double-bind and monitor your communication style according to the context and to your personality.You don’t need to change or to be “fixed” as a woman, in order to fit in the male-dominated corporate world. But you surely need to be carefully prepared and develop your confidence.
- Take every opportunity, even small ones, to show up and speak. Overcome your fear and do it anyway. Learn to interrupt. Don’t wait for the permission to speak up. Listen actively and jump in when appropriate.
- Ask for help from a colleague or from a coach. Step out of your comfort zone and explore, safely, the learning curve. Get honest and constructive feedback. One step at a time, build your confidence and express your true colors. If you try to be somebody that you’re not, you’ll be found out anyway. Bring the whole you when you speak.
My mantra: Show Up. Stand Up. Speak Up. Repeat. Encourage others. Build tribes. With the power of your voice. One person at a time.
Marion Chapsal is the Vice-President of Business & Professional Women Rhône-Alpes at BPW International and a sought after Senior Executive Leadership & Presentation Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. You can follow her on twitter at @marionchapsal
Just short of standing on top of the table and screaming “LISTEN YOU CRAZY GUYS” what do I do to be heard? First, I’ve tried the whole top-of-the-table thing and it doesn’t work! It irritates most people and I look foolish. So, I’ve been trying another tactic. First, I pose the “brilliant thing I want to say” in the form of a question: For example, Have you ever thought of…? Can you imagine a time when…? What if we took a different approach…? This puts the room at ease and asks for their input verses immediately bombarding them with an idea that they need to rebut. Also, I try to search deep in my soul and ask, “What is my motive for opening my mouth? Am I feeling threatened by the people in the room and just trying to “look smart” or do I really have a great idea?” When my motive is the former, the idea falls on deaf ears; the latter results in momentum that can be a catalyst for change!”
I find this tactic works well at home too. For example, screaming, “CLEAN YOUR ROOM NOW!” doesn’t get me very far with my two teenage girls. However, when I pose a question such as “ I wonder what the cute boy down the street will think of you when he sees all of your dirty underwear, clothes and bras thrown out on the front lawn” I actually get results! I’m just sayin’!
Martha Delehanty is the Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Verizon Enterprise Solutions. She also serves on the board of trustees for 180 Turning Lives Around, a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating domestic violence.
There are some strategies I figured out along the way – when I started my career there was one woman represented on the management team in various functions throughout the company. We all felt like the token woman and were viewed as an affirmative action placement. We had to be so much better qualified than our male counterparts to be considered. At meetings the men would just jump in and talk over each other. In the beginning I would wait for an opening to share my thoughts- but soon realized that wasn’t going to work. Fortunately I have a low and deep voice and I can project without sounding like I’m shouting. So I would lower my voice an octave or two – jump in like the rest of them and project at a decibel level that couldn’t be missed. You could hear a pin drop – the men would all turn around and look at me as though it was some anomaly that this woman in the room was speaking. After I shared my thinking they would look at each other and then move on to the next subject. That changed over the years yet oddly enough I still see some of that behavior today – it’s just more subtle.
Later in my career I added another strategy – team up with a male colleague and bring him with you to important meetings or presentations. The male/ female dyad lends credibility to who you are and what you say. Men take you more seriously and it seems to make them more comfortable.
Lastly, women tend to over react to male counterparts or bosses when they are challenged. It’s always best to stay cool, stick to the facts and don’t back down if you think you’re right. I would say it also helps to have a sense of humor. Supporting other women is also essential, there’s nothing that hurts women more than to have the guys see you undermining each other.
Rose Fass is the CEO and founder of fassforward Consulting Group. She is the author of the book, The Chocolate Conversation, Lead Bittersweet Change, Transform Your Business. Follow her on twitter @rosefass
For a long time I blamed myself. I thought the reasons why I was neglected at work depended on the fact that I looked younger than my age, had a girly voice, was too patient, or behaved too nice for too long. Too often my accomplishments were overlooked despite my overall high performance. Last year, I decided to change the game plan. I started a blog within my area of expertise – communications, marketing and PR – where I could get exposure and support for my opinions and skills. I began to market my articles on social media, and I tweeted myself to a literally breathtaking 66 in Klout score at its most. The project turned out well. At the same time expected, yet unexpected, there were people who actually read and liked what I shared. And not just some people. Influential people in my field started to reach out to me. I did get contribution proposals for other websites, guest blogging requests and interview suggestions.
Today, people write to me on a regular basis asking for advice. They submit guest posts to my blog. They share and repost my content. They even talk (nicely) about me in online conversations where I’m not directly involved. By establishing myself as an authority in my field of expertise, my online credibility spills over into the “real” world as well. In business life, my opinions can’t be dismissed as ramblings of the communications girl in the cubicle furthest away on the floor. It’s because of the hundreds, even thousands, of people who have approved what I say, long before it hits the corporate suggestion box. This my undercover strategy to make myself heard.
Anna Rydne is a communications specialist and blogger based in Stockholm, Sweden. She has just landed the assignment of her dreams: a book contract with a publishing firm in England thanks to making herself heard online. You can follow her on twitter at @coskills.
.*58% in the US, 56% in the UK, 59% in Sweden, and 51% in France, according to the World Bank.
**16.6% in the US, 17.3% in the UK, 27% in Sweden and 18.3% in France, according to Catalyst.org.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at
makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.