Women make up nearly half of the workforce when it comes to entry level positions in the world’s top companies, but very few ever reach the C-suite during their careers. The statistics vary widely by industry, but only between 2% to 8% of all companies worldwide are led by women executives. Despite an increasing focus on the need to increase diversity and inclusiveness in organisations of all sizes and types, women continue to occupy very few of the top leadership positions.
All Executives Face Significant Hurdles to Reach the Top … Women Experience a few Extras
While stereotypes, gender bias and social conditioning all play a significant role in the lack of women at the top, there is evidence that there are specific actions that women can take that impact their ability to survive and thrive “in a man’s world.”
According to a 2013 report published by the Commonwealth Secretariat, Gender Differences in Leadership Styles and the Impact within Corporate Boards, female executives can benefit from training in skills such as confidence, assertiveness and communication.
Obstacles to Effective Communication in the Board Room
One of the reasons why women are not usually considered for assignments and promotions is that women are typically less likely to call attention to their achievements, especially in the board room. They are more reluctant to call attention to their worth, value and contributions to the organisation, and so their merits often go unnoticed.
Even when a female executive manages to advance to a stage in her career where she has a seat at the table, she may not share the same limelight as her male counterparts. If she does voice her opinions and ideas, other males in the room typically take credit.
The High Cost of Invisibility
The result is that not only are women robbed of respect, but they are robbed of opportunities that create the growth, experience and the track record necessary for decision makers to notice their talents and give them additional opportunities to lead at the next level.
The organisation also suffers, because it is robbed of the unique insight and ideas women have to contribute, and which they so desperately need.
Gaining Recognition and Respect in the Board Room
Women must learn how to communicate effectively with the men in the board room. The business world has traditionally been one of the main centers of power for men, and board rooms continue to be disproportionately dominated by men. It’s a man’s environment.
Unfortunately for women executives, there are distinct differences in communication styles between men and women, and women must learn how to speak “the language,” if they wish to be taken seriously in the board room and given the opportunity to advance.
Connecting and Communicating Within the “Old Boys Club”
It’s called the “old boys’ club” for a reason. To put it simply, in the business world, men tend to gravitate the company of other men. This is just human nature – we naturally move towards people who are like us. Like any other social clique, individuals and groups that are different, or that challenge the status of members of the clique, are more easily excluded. To gain access to “the club,” and recognition in this social circle, women need to learn the language and social cues that will gain them entry.
Focus on Direct Communication, Avoid Words that Dilute Meaning and Impact
One primary way that men differ from women when they communicate is that men often prefer direct communication that leads with facts.
Women, on the other hand, have a natural tendency to favour roles where they provide support and nurture others. Rather than focusing on conveying information, they tend to think first of the emotional impact their words might have on others when they speak. This leads them to use words that qualify or soften their stance, such as “but,” “just,” and even “I’m sorry.” This is true even when there is nothing to apologise for.
Women executives need to learn how to confidently express their positions and ideas without apology. Focus on highlighting facts and figures during your presentations and using this information to back what you believe should be the correct course of action.
Stand Up for Yourself
In addition to using direct communication, women need to learn how to stand up for themselves when they are ignored. Many women avoid direct confrontation, but politely waiting your “turn” simply doesn’t work.
By learning how to speak the language and understanding the social cues that both men and women value in communications, you can boost the amount of recognition that you receive. This will also increase the likelihood you will be picked for the more challenging assignments and opportunities that might otherwise have been given to a male colleague. You can’t assume people will think you’re interested in an opportunity unless you put your hand up.
You don’t have to act like a man to be heard, but you do need to adopt a communication style that they will recognise. Know your value and be assertive when sharing your ideas. They are exactly what is needed and add a touch of balance to the organisation.