“I believe in the power of the voice of women.” – Malala Yousafzai
Your voice is more than the sound produced by your vocal cords. Your voice is an expression of your wishes, choices and opinions. Your voice has influential power. Unfortunately, in 2017 women are still being silenced or shamed for their voice, especially when viewed as being assertive.
Some of the stories of women being silenced are high profile. Senator Kamala Harris was scolded during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in June by the committee’s male chairman who said her style of questioning was disrespectful. Senator Richard Burr went on to inform Senator Harris she should show “courtesy” and be more polite when questioning people. Senator Harris has now turned her admonishment into a rallying cry of “Courage, Not Courtesy.”
The silencing and shaming of women’s voices is not isolated to politics. I’ve heard women in a multitude of industries share their personal stories of being shushed or told their voices were not appropriate, i.e., too loud, too soft, too professional, not professional enough, too feminine, too masculine, too direct, not direct enough, and so on.
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In included a key premise that women are judged more harshly when voicing opinions. Assertive men are respected for being direct while women acting in a similar manner are often deemed to be overbearing or selfish.
Much of the difference of voice by gender comes down to differing standards and cultural stereotypes according to Joseph Grenny coauthor of Crucial Conversations. He states, “Women are burdened with the assumption that they will conform to cultural stereotypes that typecast women as caring and nurturing. Speaking forcefully violates these cultural norms, and women are judged more harshly than men for the same degree of assertiveness.” 1
The perception of women having a more caring and kind voice also appears to be a key reason virtual assistant voices, such as Siri and Alexa, are female. A recent survey by Accenture Federal Services noted more than 60% of respondents preferred a digital assistant voice with a young, female and human-sounding voice.2
How do we combat stereotypes and unconscious bias associated with voice? First, we need to be bold and stay true to our voice in the same way we are authentic by leading from our true north. Second, it’s essential to call out unconscious bias and empower others to do so as well. For example, speak up if you observe someone always relegating women to note-taker roles rather than leading the discussion. Third, consider unconscious bias training. There are many free online resources if your organization doesn’t offer such training. Google has put great effort into its re:Work unbiasing guides, available free online, to make “the unconscious conscious” in order to create a more welcoming and inclusive workplace.
Be bold, be courageous and speak your truth.
Theresa currently serves as TRUST President, and President, Children’s Minnesota Foundation. Originally trained in nursing, Pesch has 25 years of health care administration experience and is a sought-after presenter for national philanthropy conferences. She was recognized as a Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal Women in Business honoree in 2012.
1 The Huffington Post, 6/8/17 http://bit.ly/2rFUqYK
2 Fedscoop.com, 6/28/17 http://bit.ly/2skr3gB