Why Are Women Absent From So Many Strategic Conversations?
Women are not climbing the corporate ladder not because of a lack of confidence but because they are missing from the strategic conversations.
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Did you know that both males and females speak, on average, 16,000 words per day?
Most of us believe that words are just words, so we tend to use them without much regard for the dynamics at play in the conversational space. We, humans, have an unconscious tendency to use talking for the purpose of asserting our power, dominance or to protect our “turf” in the conversational space.
But if you string words together with indifference as to whether or not you are creating personal safety or you’re using your power for personal gain, there’s a high probability that key ingredients for safety, connection and feeling valued are incomplete or missing. Hence, the person on the other side of the conversation is left feeling personally rejected. This is a significant misstep. A lack of these key ingredients in a conversation leads to distrust and shuts down the quality of a relationship.
When you speak, isn’t your ultimate goal to be heard and listened to, along with adding value and feeling valued in return for that amazing contribution you just made?
In the work environment, talking is meant to communicate ideas and insight, pass information, instruct, influence, co-create and problem solve. But meaningful conversations focused on shared success outcomes are not happening at a high enough frequency in organizations. Most conversations miss the mark because they lack quality connectivity between individuals and lead to inadequate results.
When you miss creating high-quality connections in the conversational space, you miss opportunities for sharing and discovering, building off each other’s ideas and inspiring each other. This misstep mostly has a direct impact on women, who are primarily hardwired for a need to connect and strive for relationships and harmony.
In the conversational space, there is a power differential. Adam Kahane, author of Collaborating With The Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust, describes “power” in the business world as being well represented and not at all repressed. So many women leaders I coach tell me they’re often the minority gender in the conversational space, and male colleagues rarely leverage their ideas. When someone else does adopt their idea, they’re never acknowledged, and it feels like rejection.
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So, I ask you to think, “What happens to the woman who originally generated this idea?”
If she’s ignored enough, she becomes silenced and absent from future strategic conversations. She gets no credit attached to her contribution. She also misses out on the feeling of being rewarded, the feeling of safety after her decision to provide a contribution and the feeling of being valued for providing beneficial insight. It’s clear this powering-over is not being done consciously and has no malicious intent, but it happens frequently in corporate settings, and it has real consequences for females.
Women who are the author-originator in a strategic conversation need support from other females to make sure they are heard in the conversational space. Another female in the room could repeat key points of the female author-originator. This is sometimes called the Echo Theory, Shine Theory or, as President Obama’s female staffers called it, amplification. This is also a brilliant communication strategy men can adopt in support of women. It has a high impact on the organization, as it raises the level of female contribution and disengages the power energy. This strategy helps women avoid feeling like an imposter and enables them to walk away feeling valued, energized and connected as a contributing member of a strategic conversation. How can you implement this in your organization?
Alternatively, women can try a different approach in order to serve the goal of being heard in the strategic conversational space. The key thing to remember and understand is that structure drives performance. Always seek that missing structure or framework to increase your performance results. Your goal of full participation in a strategic conversation requires that you must work to connect with your audience in multiple ways.
Communication is not one-size-fits-all. Listening to connect holds with each silent moment a valued kindness that is internalized and deposited as trust. When it is time to speak, do so with a mission of speaking to connect. When you do use your voice, it is critical to understand common communication missteps leading to idea and innovation failures. Here’s how:
1. Everyone wants to be the smartest one in the room — this is called addicted to being right. Keep others from disconnecting and shutting down, rejecting your ideas or powering over you. Provide them with evidence that you have considered the challenges and determined a path forward, despite them.
2. Effectively link your idea to strategic outcomes and value drivers.
3. If possible, work proactively to get stakeholders on board to support your idea in the meeting.
4. Be sure to manage your energy levels with an assertive style. If you lean in too far and come off aggressive, your audience will stop listening and connecting with you.
Remember what you are up against if you miss these important steps of connecting with your audience. Human tendency is to remove any clutter or distractions and power over someone to move faster, not take time to communicate, contemplate or fully connect. This comes off as rejection.
You have choices to make in every interaction dynamic with others. Since structure-drives-performance is a key principle, leverage the above structure to assist you in connecting while increasing your contribution frequency in those strategic conversations and drive company growth.
Seek the missing structure to increase confidence and performance results. Ask the key question, “What is the structure I need for this situation?”