As of 2015, on average women earned 80 cents to every dollar earned by men, and this gap only widens the higher women climb the professional ladder. In addition to equal pay, women continue to face numerous obstacles to equality in the workplace, including subtle and not-so-subtle forms of discrimination when it comes to voicing their opinions and ideas in professional settings. In a paper published in 2012, Victoria L. Brescoll, Associate Professor in the Yale School of Management found that when it came to chief executives, male executives who spoke more often than their peers received 10 percent higher ratings of competence, whereas female executives were subject to 14 percent lower ratings.
Faced with facts like these, women are presented with unique challenges when it comes to earning respect from their colleagues, advancing their careers, and ultimately closing the gender pay gap.
At Cake & Arrow, we are committed to person-centered business practices, a commitment which affects not only how we build products, but how we interact with our clients and with one another. Creating a diverse work environment where everyone feels their voices are heard and respected, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or any other demographic factor, is an important part of this position and internally, we make efforts to create opportunities for the diversity of voices to be heard. One initiative that supports our commitment to diversity and equality is the Archery Club, a monthly club devoted to exploring gender equality issues in the workplace and creating opportunities for growth and empowerment.
Our recent Archery Club meeting explored how, given the bias and discrimination faced when speaking up, women can learn to speak with authority and confidence in professional settings, while earning the respect of colleagues and clients.
In order to come up with strategies for combating this form of bias in the workplace, it is important to first understand the problem, which, when it comes to women speaking up, is largely one of perception. In their 2015 New York Times article, Speaking While Female, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explain, “when a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive.” So if the problem lies in how women are perceived when they speak up, how can women alter their own behavior and educate others in order to combat these perceptions?
As it turns out many women don’t know the answer. A 2014 Harvard Business Review article explains how “female executives, vastly outnumbered in boardrooms and C-suites and with few role models and sponsors, report feeling alone, unsupported, outside of their comfort zones, and unable to advocate forcefully for their perspectives in many high-level meetings.”
A part of the mission of the Archery Club is to empower one another to answer such questions. In our meeting we discussed a few key strategies that can help:
You can download the full presentation here.
As discussed above, one of the obstacles women face when speaking up is a perceived lack of confidence. A simple way women can combat this is through the age-old practice of, well, practice. During the session, we recommended that women prepare a list of points they want to make before a meeting and then practice making these points with a friend, family member, or colleague beforehand so that they feel–and are perceived as–confident when it comes time to make them. It's important that practice be more than just thinking of great things to say, but actually saying them out loud. In this way, the body has a chance to fully perform the thoughts and gains the muscle memory that accompanies speaking them in time.
Research confirmed years ago that women are far more prone than men to apologizing. There are certainly many cultural reasons that explain this behavior, but researchers have found that one of the key reasons women apologize more than men is that they have a far lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior. So when they are apologizing it is likely that they actually believe they have engaged in offensive behavior, whereas a man may be less likely than a woman to perceive their own behavior as offensive, and thus less likely to apologize. When women apologize it not only undermines their authority, but it trains others to view the expression of their opinions as offensive–which explains why women are perceived as either too meek or too aggressive when speaking up in professional settings. Apologizing sets the standard for what should be considered offensive when speaking as a woman, and people, men and women alike, respond accordingly.
The passion and zeal women bring to their work is both a strength and a weakness; passion is often the force that makes women good at their jobs, but it can also lead to women being perceived as overly emotional, which in turn can undermine their authority. This is why balancing passion is important. In the same way that being too passionate can make women look too emotional, being too deadpan can make women seem as if they do not care enough and thus make their messages go unheard. Pathos is an important aspect of the art of rhetoric, but it is most effective when balanced by ethos (credibility) and logos (logic and reason).
While the impetus is often upon women to conform to certain standards of what is acceptable and expected in order to command authority in the workplace, in a person-centered workplace that truly values the voices of all employees, it is important that everyone, of all genders, ages, races, and levels of authority, be willing to empathize with one another and make room for the varied and exceptional ways in which people communicate. If we are willing to expand ourselves and one another in this way, we will all benefit from the diversity of voices and perspectives that can rise above our implicit biases and preconceived notions of whose and what ideas are worthy of our attention.