It’s been proven that greater gender diversity helps deliver significant commercial returns. And while this is true of overall gender diversity in teams, studies have also demonstrated the benefits of having more women in leadership positions.
However, women leaders and women aspiring to leadership roles can often experience a range of challenges. Ahead of Page Executive’s Women in Leadership dinner on the 24th of March 2022, we asked prominent female leaders about the key communication and influencing strategies that can help women own their seat at the table.
What challenges do women leaders face?
Despite all the progress that has been made when it comes to diversity and inclusion, women in leadership positions are likely to encounter a range of different roadblocks. For instance, they may be more likely to doubt themselves, something which often results from not receiving equitable treatment in the workplace.
Similarly, they may experience lower confidence than male leaders, and have a greater propensity of ‘imposter syndrome’, the internal perception of lower competence than others would attribute to you.
The result is that women in leadership roles, or those working toward them, are often less likely to speak up in group situations and find it harder to assert themselves. They may also be less willing to promote their successes, either internally or externally, making them less visible and hampering their progression in their business and wider career.
We spoke to Jo Kenrick, Non-Executive Director for several leading companies including Coventry Building Society and Sirius Real Estate, about the importance of your physical presence in a room as a female leader. Jo commented:
As a woman, you are often physically smaller, and your voice is quieter and higher than the male leaders in the room. Therefore, thinking about your impact in a room, how you enter a room, making people aware of the fact that you are there, and getting your point across, is really important.
Why communication and influencing matters
Strong communication skills and the capacity to influence others are key attributes of any leader or aspiring leader. They are especially important for women leaders, however, since they often find themselves working closely with male leaders, and men and women generally communicate in different ways.
This is visible even in childhood, with boys tending to play games revolving around hierarchy and becoming ‘number one’, and girls playing games emphasising connection, collaboration, and validation. Such differences persist into adulthood and the workplace, where they have the potential to cause communication challenges.
Susan Fee, a career counsellor, coach and public speaker, works with business leaders across a range of sectors to help them adapt their communication style in order to become more effective in the workplace. She commented:
If you notice that you're not getting credit for your ideas or you're getting interrupted, adapt your style to be more directive. Get on the agenda, let the facilitator know in advance you'd like to speak, ask an ally to support your idea and acknowledge you by name.
Communicating and influencing for success
There are several methods which can help female leaders to ensure that they are heard, and their contributions understood and appreciated. For instance, by reducing the use of disclaimers, tag questions, and uptalk, female leaders may find that their words land with greater force, sounding more decisive and less like questions or suggestions.
Similarly, when aiming to come across with greater authority and directness, it can also be useful to frontload statements, ensuring that important details, actions, and keywords are in the first half of sentences. This both requires and projects confidence, and keeps listeners engaged. Additionally, it is important to ‘own’ the message with an active voice and a prominent “I” to put your stamp on the discussion.
Of course, a critical component of this is self-belief. We discussed this topic with Amanda Lennon, an award-winning HR Consultant and employment lawyer. She said:
You have to believe that you are there for a reason. Believe in yourself and trust that someone has appointed you as a leader for a reason and remember that you have worked really hard to be where you are.
Considerations for aspiring female leaders
While these strategies will help in most contexts, it is also important to understand the culture of the organisation in which you are operating, and the types of strategies which seem to work there. Take the time to observe the communication styles that tend to have the most sway. It is also worth asking: who is progressing fastest in their careers and how do they tend to communicate? Amanda commented:
You need to be very cognisant of who your audience is – what makes them tick, what are you there to discuss, what kind of leadership do they need to see from you? You have to quickly be able to adapt your style. When I first became a leader, I really looked at how other people interacted, how they got their points across. That enabled me to learn to listen, which is a very important leadership skill. You have to be aware of how you come across.
Along with this, it will be important to note the details of the more challenging interactions taking place, such as communications during conflict resolution. This is a good strategy for female leaders to adapt their communication style according to the culture of their organisation.
How to avoid losing out in a hybrid world
It has been noted that the shift toward hybrid working, for all its benefits, has the potential to disadvantage certain groups, especially women and female leaders with children and families. Jo commented:
In this new hybrid world, it can be tricky for women with caring responsibilities to make sure they aren’t missing out on face-to-face opportunities with colleagues and managers. As leaders, one of the things we can do to help with that is to give everyone a level playing field, for instance by deciding that there will be a particular day when everyone is in, so that people can plan their caring responsibilities around that.
Having more women in leadership positions can bring enormous benefits to organisations, but to truly thrive it is critical to be able to communicate in a way that suits the environment. This is more complex in the hybrid world created by the pandemic, with so much discussion and planning taking place via non-traditional means. There is a huge opportunity for female leaders who have mastered these skills to more effectively influence and at the same time accelerate their career.
At the Page Executive Women in Leadership dinner, we will be discussing all this and more with a panel of experienced and insightful female leaders. The conversation will delve deeper into communication and influencing, how to create a more equal workplace, and ultimately, how female leaders can own their seat at the table.
For further details, please contact:
Sarah Bradley, Partner, Page Executive
E: [email protected]
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