Why are women not speaking up?

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Why are women not speaking up?

Despite all our recent achievements in the third wave of feminism, women in general aren’t speaking up. It’s not because they haven’t got anything to say.  It’s not because they don’t have an opinion, it’s not that they aren't achieving and succeeding. But in many instances, they just aren’t speaking up as loudly,  clearly or as readily as their male counterparts.

Why, Why, Why?

Every woman deserves to be heard, they deserve to have a voice in their work and their personal lives. 

It’s the hesitation to self-promote, take credit or debate a point.  It’s the fear of drawing attention to oneself, expressing an opinion or to deliver a speech or presentation. They don’t want to be seen or talked about as bossy, aggressive, or bragging.  The result being, they are over looked for promotion, not viewed as knowledgeable or competent as colleagues, not seen to be leaders.

 

Common reasons for not speaking up

In no particular order, some of the common issues holding women back that have been discussed in books and articles are:

1.     Teachers favouring boys in a co-education system – girls they learn to be quiet.

2.     Parental influence for them to be quiet - seen not heard

3.     Being labelled bossy rather than a leader

4.     Being labelled aggressive rather than ambitious

5.     Images and portrayals in media and entertainment of women be supporting roles or submissive

6.     Male bosses adopting patriarchal roles

7.     Imposter syndrome

8.     Self-deprecating beliefs - usually caused by points above

9.     Not being heard and valued in a personal relationship e.g. marriage

10.  One ‘bad’ experience – so they don’t try again.

What an exhausting list!  Not everyone will have all of these on their “reasons why I don’t like public speaking” list.   Often one will stand out.  Sheryl Sandberg and her book ‘Lean In’ identified some of these as issues, that were holding us back from top Leadership. Points one to five in particular. I say never mind top leadership how about just keeping pace and being confident and happy.  We all don’t have to aspire to be part of the corporate ladder, but it would be great to think that every woman’s voice is heard and listened to. To do that we need to be confident, and in turn we need to address the issues that are stopping us.

We need to take responsibility, maybe look at our past analyse these negative beliefs and get over them. We must take responsibility for whether we are going to be part the negative messages or do something to stop the clichés.  A woman may need to check to see if she is perpetuating them (repeating negative messages).

Ok so maybe this isn’t your battle what about number six?  Male bosses maybe to blame – gasp!  You can’t say that!  But let’s be honest some still unconsciously bring their own stereotypes to work.   In turn, they teach other men to replicate them and tell the females that they aren’t as valued.  If it has happened to you, as it did me, then acknowledge it and keep on swimming.

And then there's the imposter syndrome. It's something that's getting more research and starting to get acknowledged.  When you start a job and people put more faith in you than you think you deserve.  Or that you're not sure if you're faking it till you're making it or just failing at it.
Imposter Syndrome is something that I have suffered from. I couldn't believe the University of Auckland gave me and my girlfriend a degree each as we did so much of it together.  I guarantee no male would ever think that. Then years later it took my first female boss to push me and say you can do this, I never heard that from a male boss.


It's no wonder that woman feel trapped in marriages where they're not being heard. It’s hard wired into them.

The real woman’s views on it

These are some challenging views that have been researched, some are slowly changing and being addressed.   However, in an everyday situation they aren’t what women identified.
Via a Social Media request for thoughts I was overwhelmed by the response that women are their own worst enemy in many situations.

Someone commented that they believe we are our own worst critics we doubt, question and put ourselves down so much more the men.   Candice Venter of Infinity Marketing also went on to say, “we tell ourselves the stories about our past or what might happen, and err on the side of caution and least rejection, we can be your own worst nightmare”

Caroline Williams confirmed my points above “As a woman in business I find that speaking up gets labelled bossy or difficult and there is research to back that up” she went on to say that we are still from the generations whose parents thought that there were gender differences and that you should be a good girl and not be heard too much.    She proposed that woman that put men on a business pedestal and they try to adopt a male assertive approach rather than finding a way to be comfortable with themselves.

Hormones are to blame


So physiologically there are also some reasons why women don't tend to speak up.  You don’t have to subscribe to the paleo theory of diet (that our diet has change radically in the last 50 years than any other time and our 2.5 million-year history and we aren’t equipped to handle it) to understand that a lot of what we think and do in this modern technological world is still ruled by the old brain.  This includes our reactions to being watched or making loud noises, standing out from the crowd. All things that are required in public speaking.

Our ‘Fight or Flight’ hormone, adrenaline, kick in and we want to run away. But we also may have norepinephrine and cortisol.  All contribute to the not wanting to speak, but both genders have these.  Levels of oestrogen and testosterone are known to affect the way we react to stress and perceived threat.  Testosterone levels favour men in their ability to face perceived threat. However, one woman via my social media survey said, it may be Prolactin, the breast-feeding hormone, that could make us more submissive and therefore reluctant.   So, women have a hormonal disadvantage, great let’s Just blame that!

One bad experience.

Today’s culture is widely acknowledged as one of instant gratification and fast paced consumerism.  An underlying subliminal requirement is that if it doesn’t work get a new one, if you fail move onto something else.    The problem with public speaking, like sports or learning an instrument, is that you will fail or at least not succeed as well as you hoped.  If you don’t have a mind- set of 'try and try again' then you won’t improve as a public speaker.  I don’t think this is a conscious attitude but it certainly could be a contributing factor for many.  This is compounded by our video world. We can watch TED talks and season professionals execute a perfect performance. It’s easy to be discouraged that we will never be as good as them so why bother.

Solutions for another day….

I will address the solutions on another blog.  Rest assured there are many.  Read Lean In for one, go on a public speaking course for another, Google advice – well maybe not.  But identifying what is holding you back is the first step. Being honest that is was one average speech or one person that didn’t want to listen “that made you hate speaking up / public speaking” and you are on the way to recovery.

 

Diana Thomson

SpeechMarks Coaching, Auckland