Actually this isn’t an article on swearing; more of a reflection that when it comes to talking we women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t (No pun intended with the 2 low level profanities!)
I work with professional women all over the world and have a particular interest in gender issues, or maybe that should more accurately read: how difficult it is for the average woman to have senior career success in a world of work designed by men for men- which means all types of business behaviour which are rewarded are male types of behaviour. I think it’s a primary reason why lack of confidence is frequently cited as a reason why women don’t climb the career ladder as fast as men.
It’s a Man’s World
I have an exercise on one of my courses which encourages women to imagine their professional world had only been designed by women for women. How different would it look? Once you let your imagination riot all sorts of things become possible and not just about flexible working. Go on; take a few minutes to imagine that we could design a working world that only suited us. It really brings home to you how ‘male’ business is.
Sex in the Boardroom
In the UK a new piece of research has just been published showing that the way women talk at board meetings is seen as weak by men. The women observed were using qualifying hesitant apologetic phrases such as: “I’m probably speaking out of turn, but…”
The author of the research, Dr Judith Baxter calls the way women speak a kind of linguistic second guessing. They avoided any direct confrontation and were more conciliatory and facilitative. As a strategy, she wryly notes, it failed. The men did not take any notice of what the women said.
Men Interrupt Women
Yet other research shows that men frequently interrupt women when they are speaking, even when the woman is the most senior manager in the organisation and the men is the lowest i.e. janitor to CEO! This is culled from research in the US and across Europe; women’s talk is not valued and both women and men think women talk too much in meetings. In fact, observation by researchers shows that despite everyone thinking women have talked the most, it was actually the men. No wonder our language becomes tentative and apologetic.
So, Women Need to Talk Like Men?
You’d think so wouldn’t you? And there is evidence that a lone senior woman, rather than trying to challenge the status quo in her organisation will adopt male ways of behaving. And then what happens? She’s described as bossy (never ‘assertive’; bossy is a derogatory word reserved almost exclusively for women), unfeminine and aggressive. It’s hard to win!
When I am working one to with women my advice is always be true to yourself. Becoming aware of how language is used in your business is a starting point; and understanding how to communicate with men is essential. When appropriate you can change your style, that’s basic emotional intelligence. But never lose your femininity. You are woman, ROAR!
By Jane C Woods of Changing People is a personal development specialist for women working with professional women in all English speaking areas of the world. She has a book available on line and is currently working a new programme of Career Tips for Successful Women.