In many parts of the world, women’s voices are suppressed. In our western culture, in particular in the U.S. corporate world, women’s voices are not “suppressed.” But they are often not fully heard. Why not? Let me suggest four challenges, with the hope that awareness can help us better hear women’s voices right here in the USA. The feminine style of speech sounds less confident. Women assert themselves only when they really know. Women get “talked over.” And women who do speak up face the “double bind.”
Everyone knows that having women on a company’s board of directors is good for the company’s bottom line. Research shows that a critical mass of THREE women results in better corporate governance. Less likely to feel like an outsider, a woman is more likely to speak up and be heard when she is one of three. Good decisions and good results follow from a balance of feminine and masculine strengths. Knowing this, leaders should not be satisfied with one (token) woman. Yet a new study shows that, at the executive level, most companies have just one woman. They have “checked the box.” With only one woman, they may miss out on the value of true gender diversity.
Why do women not speak up (as much as men) in meetings? The real reason, say Sharyl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their NYT series, is the “double bind.” If women don’t speak up, hold the floor and speak with confidence, they are not heard or seen as leaders. If they do, they are seen as aggressive (called the “B-word”). They offer some suggestions. I add my own.