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Breaking Through Bias in Next-Gen Comms

Andrea S. Kramer

As a woman in the traditionally male next-gen communications industry, you face gender stereotypes that discount your abilities and gender biases that discriminate against your career advancement. Your goal, therefore, is to take control of your career and confront these stereotypes, overcome these biases and achieve the full measure of success to which your talent, hard work and ambition entitle you. To achieve this, communication is key. You must be able to show your competence, confidence, career commitment and leadership ability, without being viewed as aggressive, abrasive or unpleasant.

We call this double-bind the Goldilocks Dilemma. Women are seen as too soft (likable but not confident) or too hard (competent but not likable), but rarely just right. You can overcome the Goldilocks Dilemma with verbal and nonverbal behaviors. These can easily be mastered once you understand how gender stereotypes prevent your true abilities from being recognized and acknowledged simply because you are a woman.

Let's look at traditional gender stereotypes. Stereotypes tell us that men are (and are expected to be) independent, competitive, decisive, aggressive, strong, action-oriented and unemotional. Women, on the other hand, are (and are expected to be) kind, caring, pleasant, modest, supportive and sensitive.

Women and men are socialized from early childhood to conform to gender stereotypes. Thus, men tend to be comfortable promoting themselves, praising their accomplishments, recounting their strengths and making their career and compensation expectations known. While women tend to speak and write about themselves tentatively and with diffidence, often downplaying their personal contributions, hesitantly recounting successes and downplaying career goals and compensation expectations.

When women start their careers with skills and ambitions similar to men, they do not advance as fast or as far as men, they leave careers earlier than men and generally report a lower level of career satisfaction than men. Women who conform to traditional gender stereotypes are viewed as pleasant and likeable but lacking the drive, presence and ambition of their male counterparts. But when women consciously ignore this gendered-communication script and behave in ways that violate traditional female stereotypes by explicitly displaying the characteristics of an effective, competent, confident leader, they are often seen as unpleasant, abrasive and unlikable. In other words, if a woman conforms to gender stereotypes, she is dismissed; if she violates them, she is socially isolated, penalized in her professional and social relationships and viewed as unlikeable.

Using impression management techniques to convey confidence and competence without triggering a negative backlash is one option in taking control of your career in today's gender-biased workplace. We call this attuned gender communication. You can communicate articulately and with force, or in open, collaborative ways. Neither of these communication patterns needs to be tentative, hesitant or diffident; they are simply impression management techniques you must master in gender-biased workplaces. Different situations require different communication styles. Attuned gender communication does not require you to communicate in any single way. Incorporating attuned gender communication into your communication tool kit allows you to choose to conform to traditional gender stereotypes or violate them. In doing one, or the other, or both, you can effectively overcome the Goldilocks Dilemma.

Communicating in an articulate, engaging and friendly way does not make you less womanly or less like yourself, but it does help you overcome the Goldilocks Dilemma. Speaking and writing with strength and warmth -- while presenting ideas in ways that do not trigger gender bias -- allows you to get ahead in your career.

Here are some simple "do's" and "don'ts" to consider:

  • Use your voice to create the impression you want. The way you speak plays a far more important role in the impressions you make than the actual substance of your ideas and opinions.
  • Make your verbal behavior powerful. Use relaxed, deep breaths to project your words and speak with power; use your diaphragm, lungs, mouth and nose when you speak; open your mouth and pronounce your words clearly; pause at key moments, such as just before or right after an important point.
  • Speak directly and avoid ambiguity. Make points clearly to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding on the part of your listeners.
  • Don't use uptalk, a passive voice, hedges or tag questions that make you sound uncertain about your ideas, positions and beliefs.
  • Don't use weak spoken or written language. Don't use self-deprecating statements, such as "I may be off base" or "I am not an expert on this topic."
  • Say "I'm sorry" only when you have something to apologize for, not to connect with other people or water down your statements and requests so you don't appear "too hard."

Once you have implemented some of these techniques, let us know if you sense any change in your perceptions of yourself and other people's responses to you. Share your experiences with us at www.AndieandAl.com.

— Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris, Authors, Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work

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Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas,
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4/6/2017 | 9:30:56 AM
IEEE WIE event next month
Alton and Andrea will also be speaking at our partner, IEEE WIE's upcoming event in San Jose on May 22-23. You can find out more and register to attend here: http://ieee-wie-ilc.org/
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