We love the celebration of International Women’s Day each year – it’s brilliant to see so many people holding events, sharing achievements and taking action for greater equality.
When it comes to the workplace, it’s an opportunity to highlight the excellent work going on to attract and retain female talent and tackle years of imbalance. But one area that gets less attention, is the gap between male and female voices – what we refer to as the Gender SAY Gap (credits to Claire Mason of Man Bites Dog for conceiving Gender Say Gap as a movement). Put simply, women are far less likely than men to share their achievements and put themselves forward for visible opportunities to influence, like public speaking, which means many brilliant and diverse voices, insights and ideas are going unheard.
As champions for women’s voices at Ginger, it got us thinking – how can we encourage more people to amplify the voices of women in their organisations? What can people do to raise the profile of women for International Women’s Day and beyond?
Here are our top five:
1. Showcase women online
Create a place online where you share the achievements of female role models in your company. That could be on your website, intranet or on LinkedIn for example. Celebrate women who are doing great things, whether it’s leading some research or delivering a keynote speech. Turning up the dial on their visibility not only raises their profile, it gives others encouragement to step out of the shadows. It also signals to future female joiners of your company, that you’re a great place to nurture their potential.
At Ginger, we’ve created a Wall of Women (or ‘WOW!’ to its friends) as part of our work with game-changing female leaders, to showcase women who are on a mission to bring about positive change in their professions and beyond. It’s a resource to find inspiring speakers, panel members and ambassadors, bringing the stories and experience of incredible women to the forefront of discussions all over the world.
2. Champion a female colleague in a meeting
Women often shy away from the spotlight, preferring their work to speak for itself. Fear of bragging, boasting and showing off can hold women back from taking credit for their work or putting forward their ideas, particularly in male-dominated environments.
There’s a simple way we can all help raise the voices of others. Try championing a female colleague in your next meeting e.g. “Laura had a great idea to…and this is the result…”. The more we boost other women’s profiles, the more we close the gap between male and female voices in the workplace.
3. Invest in the right kind of training
Many companies are investing in training in a bid to strengthen their talent pipeline and improve gender balance, particularly when it comes to retaining female staff and getting more women in the board room. Great news.
Sadly, lots of training falls down for one of these reasons:
1) It focuses on the wrong thing (e.g. unconscious bias training, which has poor results)
2) Over-emphasises the role of knowledge in creating behaviour change: “if I ‘know’ how to be confident, it should follow that I am confident.”
3) Emphasises mitigating for weaknesses, rather than building upon strengths: “here’s what you’re doing wrong, once you know about it, you can improve.”
While a lot of men get good results from the third approach, in our experience many women find that such an approach reduces, rather than builds, their willingness to be more visible.
In our view, if you want to invest in training that encourages more female voices, a specialist approach is needed. Our work with emerging and senior female leaders centres around strengths-based feedback. We develop the unique strengths that already exist within a leader, rather than picking holes in their approach, or trying to make them into something they’re not. When female leaders are comfortable in their own skin, have the confidence in their ideas and the tools to articulate themselves, that’s when they step forward in their visibility.
4. Raise visibility expectations
Make it the cultural norm that women are expected to be as visible as their male counterparts, whether it’s speaking at a conference or leading a sales pitch. That may mean putting women forward before they feel ‘ready’. Eek!
A gentle (or sometimes not so gentle) shove can help overcome the tendency for ‘tiara syndrome’, where women are reluctant to put themselves forward unless they are invited and/or encouraged. The reality is, companies frequently opt for the easiest solution – picking the most vocal and extravert people for speaking opportunities. It means we hear from the same people and get the same results. Shake things up and you’ll bring diverse voices to the surface which can unearth all kinds of exciting ideas and innovations.
5. Challenge speaker line-ups
How many conferences do you attend where the line-up has anywhere near a balance of male/female speakers? The lack of visible and vocal female leaders means we’re missing out on hearing from some of the brightest minds in business.
When you’re arranging your own events, conferences and panel discussions, you have an opportunity to open up the discussion by bringing in more diverse voices. You may not be able to create a 50/50 gender split, at least not straight away, but set a plan in motion that aspires to a reasonable balance of all kinds of speakers. Your events will be richer in thought and outcomes as a result.
Where you attend events organised by others; challenge them on their speaker line-up. Put forward women who have ideas and insight to contribute.
And…put YOURSELF forward. Now that’s an idea.
So, let’s celebrate and amplify the voices of our brilliant women this International Women’s Day…and every day.
If you’re ready for deep and lasting change in your company, we’d love to talk to you about our specialist women’s leadership programmes. You can take a look here to investigate some of our past successes with championing women’s voices.
Join us for our free Webinar on the habits which can hold female leaders back on 13 March 2020 12-1pm GMT. Register here.
The UK’s leading inspiring speaking expert & best-selling author. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is a multiple-award winning public speaking coach, founder of Ginger and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson).