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Strategies for Women to Boldly Use their Voices in the Workplace

What are effective strategies for short-circuiting backlash that occurs – or preventing it from happening at all – when women professionals “speak up”?

Ah, double standards. In business, when men “speak up” they are strong, decisive, go-getters. But when women express ideas and opinions they’re often perceived as shrill, overbearing, aggressive. The persistence of such stereotypes in the twenty-first century is maddening. When speaking up, women must be ready with proactive approaches to circumvent and even shut down odious views. Doing so will demonstrate and strengthen their leadership skills, and encourage other women to confidently use their workplace voices.

In one of Brescoll’s studies, a sample of 156 online volunteers read a short biography of a CEO who was introduced as either female (Jennifer Morgan) or male (John Morgan). The only other difference between the biographies was that in one condition the CEO was described as speaking more than average while in the other they were described as speaking less than average.

After reading one of the potential biographies, the volunteers rated the CEO on leadership suitability, competence, knowledge, and effectiveness using 7-point scales.

The results revealed that, for female CEOs, talking resulted in a very real penalty. When female CEOs spoke often, their leadership ratings took a significant dive compared to when they were described as quiet. In contrast, male CEOs received a boost in ratings for being talkative rather than quiet. A further comparison showed that men were seen as better leaders than women despite having the exact same description for how frequently they spoke.

“These results suggest that high-power women are in fact justified in their concern that they will experience backlash from being highly voluble,” Brescoll writes. “Results showed that a female CEO who talked disproportionately longer than others in an organizational setting was rated as significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership than a male CEO who talked for an equivalent amount of time.”

In the case of the researchers’ first sample, involving military cadets at West Point, “This difference is immense.”

On average in 10-person teams, Emich said, men who speak up more than two-thirds of their teammates are voted to be the No. 2 candidate to take on team leadership.

“Women who speak up the same amount are voted to be the No. 8 candidate,” he said. “This effect size is bigger than any I have seen since I began studying teams in 2009.”Further, in the team’s second study, a lab study of working adults from across the United States, Emich said, “We find that men are given more credit than women even when saying the exact same thing.”

“Of course, when I discuss this with women they are not shocked,” Emich said. “The most common reaction I get is gratitude that we finally have data to show something they have been observing for years. However, men are mostly oblivious. This is because they do not need to consider their gender in most organizational contexts, thus their unconscious biases remain just that, unconscious.”

Did you know that men do a whopping 75% of the talking during the average business meeting?

Preliminary results from Partners In Leadership research confirm this finding: Women above men still struggle to find their voice in the room.

In 2012, Heath, Flynn, and Holt reviewed 7,000 surveys and 360-degree feedback evaluations for 1,100 female executives at the vice-president level or higher, surveyed 270 female managers of Fortune 500 companies, and interviewed 65 top executives (both male and female) from companies like JPMorgan Chase, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Lowe’s, Time Warner, and eBay.

What they found was that more than half of the Fortune 500 executives reported that meetings were a “significant issue or a ‘work in progress,’” and, while men and women seemed to agree on the problems, they often disagreed on the causes.

And having more women in meetings doesn’t help.

The authors of the book The Silent Sex found in research that men out-talked women even when the group was 60% female. Women only spoke as much as men when they outnumbered them four to one.

Register and reserve your spot today!

Date: April 26 at 11:00am MT

Location: Mathnasium, 13644 Orchard Pkwy Ste 700, Westminster CO 80023

Ticket price: $15 – Register Now ($20 at the door)


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