Women are ambitious. Women are determined. Women are successful. In history as well as in modern life, women have done the impossible – and that, oftentimes, under more than difficult circumstances.
Numerous studies, however, reveal that women are not always perceived as resourceful leaders. Instead, all too frequently they are described as emotional, affectionate, sensitive and sentimental. Men on the other hand are often marked down as self-confident, rational, achieving, and resourceful (Schwartz & Rubel, 2005). These gender stereotypes falsely portray women as lacking the top qualities that people commonly associate with effective leadership. What’s worse, these stereotypes are socially embedded and that means they are learned (!) at an early age and from there unconsciously passed on - by both, women and men. As early as age four, children have a clear understanding of “appropriate” gender attributes and unconsciously strive to fulfil the underlying expectations of them (Eddleston, Veiga, & Powell, 2003). This perpetuates and can – at times – lead to imbalances in the work place.
Needless to say, women as well as society have long understood that there are advantages and disadvantages to any leadership-, communication- or negotiation style. Furthermore, the styles more frequently related to female leadership are currently trending. Nonetheless, it is important for women to understand where they can – situationally and mindfully – give their voice that strong (self) support needed to shine in a world that can seem so loud and domineering.
Had You Talked Desdemona
Had you talked Desdemona (Brückner, 1983) is a book (in German) that features the unspoken speeches of famous women in world literature. By giving those heroines words that they actually never spoke, the book indirectly raises the question whether speaking their mind in a direct way, may have made a difference in those fictitious women’s lives and in the outcome of their affairs. The book thereby highlights one of the most prominent features that women can develop more effectively in order to craft a strong and authentic voice as a woman leader – namely to speak up.
Here are some common habits women may have developed to protect themselves from fears and to unconsciously fulfil the previously mentioned societal schemas. The habits are followed by self-reflective questions:
- Silence: How often do I say what I want to say in a direct, yet mindful manner? In which situations do I say what I want to say in the style I want to say it? In which situations do I keep quiet although I wanted to say something?
- Mixed Messages: What are the underlying intentions of my message? Am I sending hidden counter-messages? If I was the recipient of this message, would I truly understand what I just said/thought?
- Obscure Messages: Am I fogging the content of my messages and thoughts so that they become less and less recognizable? Do I sound self-assured, certain and authentic in what I want to say? Or do I come across as “weak” and easily convincible of the exact opposite?
- Watered down messages: So, I wanted a pay rise by how many percent? Am I actually saying this exact percentage or do I end up demanding only half of this? What am I afraid of, when I demand less than I actually wanted? Which other areas of my life do I water messages down? Which narrative do I use to support the reduction of my own wishes (like: Do I really disserve this much? Am I really this good?)?
- Exaggerated messages: Am I sometimes blowing messages up - either in content or emotionally? How do I come across when I do this? Why am I doing this? What do the extra emotions, words or ideas actually cover up?
Whether in the workplace, in your private life or in society: Given the importance of making yourself heard in the way you want to be understood – it might be worth spending some time understanding how you may sabotage your own intentions and practice strong counter-techniques to develop an authentic voice of efficacy as a woman leader.
In other words, it might be time to speak, in your own, true and authentic voice, Desdemona!
About the author:
Erika Jacobi is the President of LC GLOBAL Consulting Inc., a boutique change and innovation consulting firm with offices in New York City and Munich, Germany. Her Ph.D. research focuses on cognitive-linguistic patterns and their role in identity construction. As a certified coach and seasoned change, growth and innovation consultant, she leads people and organizations through crucial transformation processes. For more information, visit www.lc-global-us.com or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LC_GLOBAL
Brückner, C. (1983). Wenn du geredet hättest, Desdemona. Hoffmann+ Campe Vlg GmbH.
Eddleston, K. A., Veiga, J. F., & Powell, G. N. (2006). Explaining sex differences in managerial career
satisfier preferences: the role of gender self-schema. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(2), 437.
Schwartz, S. H., & Rubel, T. (2005). Sex differences in value priorities: cross-cultural and
multimethod studies. Journal of personality and social psychology, 89(6), 1010.