A recent Harvard Business Review article titled “Women, Find Your Voice,” by Kathryn Heath, Jill Flynn and Mary Davis Holt from the consulting firm Flynn Health Holt caught my eye. The article discusses the reality that many women have a difficult time finding their voice in a boardroom meeting, based on research conducted by surveying 7000 workers, including 110 female executives and 270 female managers of Fortune 500 companies about their issues with company meetings.
The research found that many women have trouble finding a strong voice in this setting. Men complained that women don’t have enough volume in their voice and often allow themselves to be interrupted. They also felt that women apologize too often and don’t provide fact-based evidence. Women described feeling outnumbered and having a hard time presenting a dissenting view when there seemed to be a consensus. “Many women admitted that they do get rattled when they’re challenged,” the authors wrote, “In fact, they’re uncomfortable with conflict in general. They find it unsettling when anyone receives a sharp public rebuke, and they often brood and second-guess themselves long after meetings are over.”
Biz Journal highlighted the article and outlined some of the authors’ suggestions on how to deal with these issues:
“1. Build allies in the boardroom: ‘Women could go a long way toward addressing the problem of timing and their feelings of isolation if they sounded out colleagues and built allies in this way,’ the authors note.
2. Consider joining Toastmasters: Learning how to speak extemporaneously is an important skill to master.
3. Come to meetings with ideas already prepared: ‘Women who do their homework and come to a meeting with an accurate sense of what it’s really about and how it will probably unfold can build on others’ remarks,’ the authors wrote. ‘Being armed with some cogent comments or questions can allow them to move the conversation forward.’
4. Keep your emotions in check: It may be a stereotype, but the authors suggest that women try to control their emotions and use language that doesn’t convey uncertainty. ‘Women need to ensure that they are seen as composed and in command of their emotions,’ the report noted. ‘It is not so much what women say as how they say it. They need to keep an even tone, not shift to a higher pitch when under duress. They need to speak deliberately and avoid signaling frustration through sarcasm or curtness.’
For women criminal defense attorneys who spend plenty of time in meetings with clients and other colleagues, this is important food for thought. How many of us have to sit through client pitches or meetings with co-counsels and opposing counsels? We probably aren’t the shyest bunch around, but I think the candor in this article will resonate with all women. Women come to the table with a different skill set and it’s critical that we openly discuss what we need to work on in order to position ourselves for success.