I have just read an article in the Harvard Business Review “Women Find Your Voice”. It definitely rang a chord with me from the conversations I have with women in large organisations. The authors conducted a major survey of 360 degree feedback on over a 1,000 women and talked to many senior women and men about their experiences of being in meetings and being heard.
It highlighted some key areas where men and women behave differently before, during and after a meeting and had some ideas on how we as women, can make a difference to our impact in what are often crucial business environments.
Some of the feedback that they received from the men they interviewed was as follows, women allow themselves to be interrupted, apologise repeatedly and fail to back up their opinions with evidence. They also said that some women became defensive when challenged and froze when they lost the attention of the room. One CEO said that “Women are often quite tentative or they pipe up at the wrong moment, and it sounds like more noise”
So, If what men see is a lack of confidence, how do these women feel ?
The response from the women interviewed was that they feel uncomfortable when challenged and tend to avoid conflict. They also recognised the "gamesmanship" that looks a bit like a football match; an idea gets passsed around like a ball and built upon before it is shot into the goal,with the orginator of the idea not being acknowledged. An all female meeting typically would look very different, with acknowledgement and inclusion at the forefront. "Thanks Sarah, I really like you idea and here is what I would add..."
Women ask questions to bring people into a conversation,whereas men will contribute when they have something to say. In a mostly male meeting, a women is less likely to contribute than she would be in a more diverse group.
The arcticle goes on to advise women on how to use more muscular language,such as my strong advice would be instead of I think or here is my plan rather than maybe we can, and I recommend instead of well what about.
Women who are passionate about their work and the topics being discussed are accussed of being "too emotional" and told to keep an even tone, speak deliberately, and avoid showing frustration.
Women tend to be punctual for meetings and get away as soon as the agenda is completed. However, it is in the pre-meeting conversations, where allies are created and thoughts and views are shared. The real purpose of the meeting beyond the agenda items can be discerned during this time and questions that may be be asked will already have been discussed. Although it may feel political, this pre-meeting homework allows participants to prepare to be spontaneous. Off the cuff remarks that you hear have already been rehearsed, if it sounds good it's probably been prepared!
We would be really interested to hear your feedback on this piece, does it reflect the advice you are given at work?
We are often asked to coach senior women on being "better heard" in meetings. Unfortunately however hard these women work at it, the facts still remain, they are often a lone token voice that will not be heard because such is the nature of group dynamics- the dominance of men means that women's voices continue to be excluded.
No one's fault, just the nature of the beast.