The Voice of Women in the Workforce

Your voice in the workforce

In today’s workforce, it is becoming increasingly critical to be able to express yourself confidently and assertively. This puts women at a distinct disadvantage in the workforce, as they are born with a tendency to show a lesser degree of confidence and assertiveness than men.

Fortunately, this can be easily remedied by changing your habits and following a few simple guidelines.

In western culture, particularly in the corporate world, the problem is not so much that women’s voices are being suppressed, but that very often women’s voices are not fully heard.

Why does this happen? It’s not for a single reason, but a multitude of circumstances that contribute:

  • The feminine style of speech is less confident.
  • Women naturally tend to be less aggressive than men. A woman’s style is more hesitant and she will more readily consider alternative points than a man. A man tends to express himself more confidently and decisively.
  • Perhaps because of this, a woman will often get talked over in meetings. She may hesitantly express an idea that is later rephrased more confidently by a male, to find that it is later accepted as his idea.

It is for these reasons that you may not be seen as an effective leader.

If you want to overcome gender inequality in the workplace, you need to accept that it’s not a level playing field. You will have more success by taking control of your voice, rather than expecting favourable treatment from others to compensate for your disadvantage.

You should be asking yourself, “Do I know how I sound?”, and “Is it contributing or detracting from what I want to say?”

The importance of pitch in your voice

In 2012 a study examined 792 male public-company CEOs and found on average, the CEOs with deeper voices managed larger companies.

In the article “Preference for Leaders with Masculine Voices Holds in the Case of Feminine Leadership Roles,” shows both men and women proved more likely to elect a person to a leadership position when she/he had a lower voice.

The study also found women with lower voices are more likely to be favored in a corporate environment, especially in a leadership role

When people do not feel confident, they usually speak with high-pitched and often shaky voice. Alternatively, if they feel confident they will present in a steady voice with a lower pitch.

If you find yourself speaking in a very high-pitched voice, try lowering your pitch. This is easier said than done, and just like any habit, it requires conscious effort in the beginning, and practice. So we’ve compiled guidlelines below to help you have better control over your voice.

Enhance your voice projection and clarity

Before speaking, take a few moments for some relaxation exercises. Take some deep breaths.  Warm up your face and jaw muscles by opening your mouth wide. Warm up your neck and shoulder muscles by doing some stretches. To practice vocal variety, read a book out loud. Open your mouth wider and enunciate each word clearly and distinctly.

Improve your posture. Stand tall with your head up, so as not to strangle your voice. Your voice is made of air, and it needs a wide-open path from your lungs, past your vocal cords and out your mouth to be heard clearly.

Focus your voice. When you practice your presentation, practice speaking to various objects in the room. Start with something close, like a chair. Then, when you feel that the chair is hearing you, focus on something a little farther away, perhaps a plant. Talk to the plant, breathe, and make sure your mouth is open so the air can flow.

Speak with confidence and authority

Speak slowly. When speaking quickly, your voice is not as clear, and it will be more difficult to hear correctly. Focus on speaking more slowly in your conversation, allowing your words to draw out and giving your sentences a weightier rhythm. It will will give you more time to think clearly about what you are saying.

Use pauses. Pauses give you a chance to collect your thoughts and prepare for the next section of your speech, adding to the authority in your presentation. It also allows your audience to process what has been said before taking on the next idea.

Use gestures. Gestures are the practice of using your hands and arms to punctuate or enhance your verbal statements. Speakers who use body language actively in their presentation tend to be viewed as more confident and more authoritative than those who do not.

Talk more. Seek out new opportunities to communicate with others whenever you get the chance. The only way to get better is to keep speaking, so sign up for a public speaking club like Toastmasters. It will give you a structured program to help you put speaking strategies to practice, and help you focus on improving your abilities over time.

Co-authored by Hannah Le and Ross Richard.

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