The Power of a Woman’s Voice
During the past month, people from all over the globe have celebrated the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Specifically, on March 8th, International Women’s Day, women from all walks of life pulled together to press for equality, amongst other things. Unlike previous years, pop culture and social media momentum appeared to have heightened attention to the cause and sparked a sense of urgency for change.
As a communication development and consulting group, we frequently work with women around the unique communication challenges they face. Many clients report still feeling stifled by long held stereotypes and cultural expectations that suppress their literal and physical voice. Women identify personal struggles with being assertive and authoritative in their verbal and physical communication. Long before there was a dedicated month, perhaps based on our origins as a female-founded company forty years ago, Speakeasy helped women understand the importance of effective communication. Never shying away from this topic, we continue to do so today as our instructors are well versed at coaching women to heighten their skills. We know developing an assertive and firm yet fair voice is vital to women’s professional success and we can – and certainly have – helped many individuals make lasting behavioral change.
Identifying the Problems
Simply Misunderstood + Unconscious Bias
While many people experience these same obstacles, specifically younger professionals, women predictably encounter stereotypes because of their gender and many are communication based. Some challenges have even been named because they are mostly evident in women, up speak or valley-girl being the most common one. But even deeper and perhaps more troubling, some people often misinterpret assertiveness with aggression, specifically when it comes to women in the work place.
Let’s face it – unconscious bias against women exists in both women and men. There is a great deal of gender bias as it relates to society’s view of strong, assertive women. Often women are perceived far more negatively than a male counterpart who acts in the same assertive manner. One executive, quoted in a 2015 Forbes article, said “To get ahead, a female manager must have the best qualities of being a woman, married with all the best qualities … of being a man.” Sounds like a tall order, right? This is the world we live in, but what can we do to improve the way society views women in the workplace?
Don’t Sugar Coat It
Sometimes it’s not “how you say it” but “what you say” that will determine if your statement is perceived as passive or assertive. Chose words such as will, want or choose that help send a clear message leaving little room for the kind of confusion that can happen with believe, think, suggest, etc.. One of the most common communication mistakes women make is using language that diminishes their point. Words like just, maybe, or simply prefacing your statement with phrases like: “this is might sound crazy…” immediately negates anything you say. In an instant, you have warned your listeners that your position may be irrelevant and lacking in value. Instead, be clear and confident in your verbal approach.
Your verbal and nonverbal communication go hand-in-hand. Being conscious of how your body language complements your verbal communication is key. A solid posture and eye contact will help you convey your message with clarity and power. Maintaining your posture and eye contact can be difficult to do in certain situations but unknowingly nodding your head can send conflicting signals. Make certain that what is clear in your head is a conveyed just as clearly when you speak.
A Forbes contributing writer released a 2017 article titled, ‘A Thank You Note to All Assertive Women’ which in a slight tongue-and-cheek tone, thanked the women who have come before as pioneers in their spaces. She writes, “Thank you for being insightful, serious, purposeful, and all the other adjectives that could be translated by naysayers as [negative]. Thank you for reflexively acting like you matter and deserve to be heard. Because you do. Thanks.”
History has taught us that change simply does not happen overnight. Women have been fighting these battles for generations and will continue for generations. Looking inside yourself will offer more resilience and determination than you thought possible. And our words of encouragement for all would be to, “Show up. Stand up and Speak up”. Consistently.