Women, How To Make Your Voice Heard

I just have to share this tweet with you, which came from Duncan Green of Oxfam.

In academic seminars, ‘Men are more than 2.5 times more likely to pose questions to the speakers. This male skew was observable only in those seminars in which a man asked the first question. When a woman did so, gender split disappeared’. CHAIRS PLEASE NOTE, FIRST Q TO A WOMAN – EVERY TIME.

Strewth, what on earth is going on there? I shouldn’t really be surprised because it links up with most other pieces of research of women being talked over in meetings, and how women are not listened to (Favourite quote alert: We have not yet learned to hear authority in women’s voices. Mary Beard)

Is this true of you? Do you find it hard to speak up? Back in 2016 I wrote a series of tips to help women speak up and it seems a good time to repeat them.

Tip One is resolve to say something in every meeting you attend. If you’re nervous say it as soon as you can. Do your research which will increase your confidence in what you want to say, and then say it at the earliest possible opportunity. When we wait too long to speak the pressure builds up and we sometimes squeak out our contribution sounding odd even to ourselves. Or worse, our nerves make us sound aggressive as we blurt what we want to say as soon as we can. We’ve all done that one, I suspect.

Tip Two It sounds counterintuitive, but number one skill in being more outspoken is learning to be a good listener. Not a good ‘hearer’, but a really good listener. Good listeners can be very powerful people as they tend to know what is really going on. And not just the act of listening to words, but taking on body language, how people interact, who has power (regardless of formal roles), getting the whole picture. Listening is very respectful, too, and sends a positive message from you to the speaker.

Tip Three Men and women listen differently. We give out different cues and signs. There is one important difference to be aware of; women tend to give lots of visual indications of listening – nodding heads and making mmm sounds. Men tend to listen more impassively, although they do nod. When a man nods he is generally saying “I agree, you can move on.”. When a woman nods she is generally saying “I understand, carry on.” There is a lot of potential for misunderstanding here.

Tip Four If Speaking Up fills with you with dread take some time to pay attention to what you automatically start to think about. There is a good chance that you are giving yourself a very negative message that is actually draining you of confidence. The dominant emotion around not feeling able to Speak Up is fear. Fear of looking stupid, of the consequences, of hurting someone, of being seen as arrogant…all sorts of reasons. Take time to try and identify yours, then neutralise it.

Tip Five If you have to say something at work that could be perceived as criticism be very careful how you phrase it. Adopt some of the principles of child rearing (although I’m not suggesting you go into parent mode!) By that I mean, work on being very specific about what it is that you find wrong. This sounds like it should be easy but because we often feel nervous about saying something critical emotions can get the better of us. Describe behaviours, not personal attributes. For example, if you don’t like the fact that I use the word ‘darling’ rather a lot I can do something about that. If you tell me I am a disrespectful person I am crushed and all of me is criticised. I’m also more likely to come out fighting, or at least respond defensively. Be specific.

Tip Six Pick your time and place carefully. If you’re on a ‘career boosting’ mission you’ll need to network a lot and make your presence felt. Be selective about where you can best spend your time – you don’t want to get known a someone who will turn up at the opening of an envelope… :>)

However, if you are potentially ‘blowing the whistle’, or giving critical feedback, you need to give long hard thought to when and where. It’s almost never a good idea to do it anywhere except in private. Depending on the seriousness you may need to make sure you have a witness, or a way of registering that you’ve made the issue known.

Tip Seven Start with the end in mind. By which I mean, what is your reason or purpose for speaking up? If you want to advance your career then you adopt very different tactics from if you want to stop some bad practice, or highlight a wrong. Once you know where you want to be at the end of a conversation it will help you take the right steps.

No one cares as much about your career as you. Take charge and be in control.

Note to trainers, coaches, and learning & development personnel
RenewYou is my one day course for women. It’s licensed to excellent trainers and coaches across the world, and to in house trainers. In brief, it is about filling women with confidence and helping them plan the next 12 months. It sits happily alongside other personal development type courses, gender equality initiatives, and coaching. (In fact, participants finish with a perfect coaching plan for the next 12 months.) If you’re looking for something new to add to your repertoire do take a look. All details are here.

P.S Re Twitter. If you’re a Twitter user do drop by and say Hi. I’m @JaneCWoods


Posted on January 3rd, 2018 by

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