Posted by: tabiam | September 21, 2016

Women Finding Their Voice

As I was scrolling through Facebook I happened to come across an article from 2014 about executive women finding their voice and owning it. It caught my attention because we are studying women and leadership and some of the readings are about women who are not being heard or given opportunities to rise to the top. This particular article (attached at the bottom) was centered around interviews of four very successful women: Dara Richardson-Heron of the Y.M.C.A. USA., Sharon Napier of Partners + Napier, Jenny Ming of Charlotte Russe, and Jody Greenstone Miller of the Business Talent Group.

        These four women spoke about the challenges faced in the workforce. Because there are few women in leadership positions it creates a burden on women who are in these positions because they are held to so many expectations. For example, Sharon Napier explains that during debates at work, her goal is to listen to everyone’s opinion and once a decision is made she moves on and strays away from taking things personal or making it about herself. She then says that, in some cases, after the decision is made people feel as if she was hard on them or inconsiderate. If this were a male, would they still feel this way? Women are often criticized for doing things that men get praised for. During the interview, she explained how she was able to gain her voice and look at things more positively after being the only woman on the board of a group of eight agencies. She noticed the men on the board introduced this “we-can-do-this attitude” basically saying, “Look, this may be a challenge, but I think we can get there and this is how we can get there”(Bryant, 2014). I found this very interesting because it showed that men and women have the ability to influence each other if they are given the opportunity or willing to be open minded.

        There aren’t many options and pathways designed for women who are not willing to follow the traditional route to leadership. Women have to prove themselves over and over until they get the credibility that they deserve (Bryant, 2014). More men than women are willing to take the traditional route of high ranking positions of large companies. It is very difficult to rise to the top and more women than men are discouraged because men have continuously made this progression. Jody Greenstone Miller, CEO of Business Talent Group (a company designed to bring in exceptional talent and clients together to create projects), designed her company to be equal. Fifty percent of her employees are women and the other half men. I found this very interesting because in the traditional setting, men outnumber women in so many ways. This is a good approach to gender equality because men and women are able to learn from each other instead of competing. Of course, this may not work in every situation or context but it is a great start.

       Why do women feel less effective in meetings than in other business settings? Why do women feel their voices are ignored or drowned out? Why can’t women find their way into the conversation? This is a problem that most women face because they are outnumbered in boardrooms. Jenny Ming, CEO of Charlotte Russe, learned that if she kept quiet and waited too long she wouldn’t have made it to where she is today. Her goal was to create a balance of listening and speaking up to help her become more effective and more comfortable. Though it is a hard act to follow because women are often judged more harshly than men it is definitely a great piece of advice. 

 

Bryant, A. (2014). Executive women, finding (owning) their voice. The New York Times

Retrieved from 

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/11/16/business/corner-office-women-executives-owning-their-voice.html?_r=0  


Responses

  1. This is something that I feel a lot of us in the class are thinking. Why is it so hard for women to be heard? Especially when we are 50% of the population, and we have attained such high positions. Sometimes it is as if we are treated as objects that don’t have a voice if that makes sense. We are just place holders in these top positions and men run the women there, which is ABSOLUTELY not true, but that is the way it feels when we cannot get our voice’s heard. I wish there was some simple answer to this question, of why have women made it so far, and yet our voices are still not heard. Is it because men in even higher positions than women of yet achieved are not advocating for us enough? Is it because women are incapable of supporting their own sex even when they could suffer the same problem?

    I wish there was an answer to this problem. It is really hard to see that women have been suffering from this for so long and yet there still isn’t an answer. I think a lot of progress has been made, but really I feel that until all women band together an agree that we get 50% of the say and have a strong voice, nothing will get changed and we still will not be heard.

  2. I have been asking myself questions similar to yours. I think one reason women may find it hard to speak when they are in a room full of men could be related to how they were raised. I grew up in a mixed environment. My family really encouraged me to speak my opinion whenever I thought it appropriate but some of the social groups around me emphasized the idea that women should be quieter and let men lead. There have been multiple times when I have seen women and girls kind of stuck in this place of wanting to voice their opinions in a group of people but then feeling like they shouldn’t because of their gender. I am wondering if childhood experiences such as these impact the way women view speaking in meetings full of men. Maybe as children they felt as though it was better to be quiet when in a room full of boys? Should we be teaching the next generation of girls that it is good to share their opinions regardless of whether or not the room is primarily full of girls or boys. I think yes! I think this will definitely help women feel more empowered later in life to speak their opinions, regardless of their audience.

  3. I like the point that Chrstine made about teaching the next generation to speak their voice. Often women and girls take the back burner for men to rise to positions of leadership. If it is easier for women to speak in mixed settings but not when they are out numbered by men, I think it has to say more about the men than the women. If men started to encourage women to speak their opinions and not try to speak over them, we would have a much more welcoming environment that would foster productive ideas and allow for women to have their voices heard. I also do believe that this starts with the things we teach children at home and at school. If little boys see their father talking over their mother or in any way undermining her authority, they will mimic that behavior. However, it goes both ways. If women aren’t making their voices and opinions be heard in the household, it will teach little girls the same pattern. We need to change the way we teach children; I believe it is the only way to really shift an entire generation of thought about women in leadership roles.

  4. I also really like the idea of helping girls find their voice as a leader early on. I know I personally was given a lot of opportunities to practice leadership in female heavy environments through the all girls high school I attended and my position as an employee of Girl Scouts, but I find those lessons I learned highly transferable to more mixed environments, in large part simply because it’s given me the opportunity to refine my leadership style and develop the confidence to know my capability to lead no matter the setting. I definitely think the earlier girls are presented with opportunities to lead the more likely they’ll be to be successful, confident leaders

  5. This is something that I think of often in class. I agree with Christine, I think it has a lot to do with the environment we live in. I think women and girls are told often that we need to be quieter in order to not outshine the men and boys. It reminds me of what we read a few weeks ago about the little girl who was told that it wasn’t about her, but it was about her little brothers learning to play baseball (Sorry- the name of the reading or the name of the author aren’t coming to mind right now). I feel like this situation begins when we are young and is then projected into our adult lives. I feel like the only real way to deal with this problem is to reinforce the idea that girls can do whatever they want, and girls need to hear this from a young age. They need to be told that they can be anything and anyone if they set their minds to it.

  6. I thought this was really interesting! To your point about Sharon Napier, listening to everyone’s ideas and then making her own decision, I heard something similar in my interview. The woman I interviewed said that she tried her best to be a democratic leader, and take everyone’s ideas into consideration, but at the end of the day, she has to act objectively and do what is best for the group. And even after everyone’s input, she still has followers who get upset about changes that are made. It’s clearly difficult to make sure everyone is happy, and I think ultimately it is up to the leader to decide what to do based on the welfare of the organization. The leader was put in his/her place because they are capable of making tough decisions and doing what is best, and I think that followers need to realize that.

  7. Addressing the question of “why do women feel less effective in meetings than in other business settings?” is definitely important. We always talk in leadership classes about how the context is so essential to understanding leadership. I don’t know about you all but some days I just feel tired of hearing “it all depends on the situation/context” but it’s so true! We say it so much because it is, in fact, important. How do we act as effective leaders in certain contexts compared to others, and how does our gender affect that? For example, the leader I interviewed was a female leading an all female staff, and she felt as if she did not face very many challenges, other than feeling the pressure of looking like she has it all together all the time. But other leaders in contexts where men are more dominant will probably face more challenges in regard to this. Why is this exactly? I’m not entirely sure, but I definitely think it has to do with this long-standing perception society seems to have that women are not as competent than men. I know this seems so obvious because we’ve talked about it so much, but there are still people who still either consciously or subconsciously believe this myth. Now, this brings up another question of how do we get rid of that idea?


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