Every year there are key days and months that celebrate important historical people and important movements in our society. International Women’s Day is such a day, celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, across the globe. We’ve all read the stats: in business, more diverse voices and more women on teams and across all levels of job seniority yield better business results. Research shows a higher representation of women in the C-suite results in 34%1 higher company returns, and diverse companies overall make 19% more innovation revenue.2
But how do we embrace our differences, and work together with our colleagues, peers and leaders to bring awareness and impact change to combat the gender gap in the workplace? This is much easier said than done, but one of the first steps is awareness and an understanding that communication styles between men and women are indeed different. There are many reasons why, and we all have an imprinted unconscious bias fueled by our upbringing, our culture, our religion, historical accounts and just our own personal life experiences. All of these have an impact on how each of us communicates with others in our personal and professional lives.
When it comes to communication styles, we can describe a few common differences between men and women, which may not be 100% true in all cases. Women tend to feel the need to be invited into conversations before speaking up, while men are generally more apt to speak up more quickly. This may come across in team meetings as women not having anything to add to the conversation, which may not necessarily be the case. And this holding back of our voice may sometimes make women feel unheard. Additionally, when women do speak up, they sometimes fail to articulate a strong point of view by allowing themselves to be interrupted too easily and at times apologizing too frequently.3
What should both men and women perhaps consider doing differently? Women should push themselves to speak up when they have a point to contribute to a conversation, and male colleagues should also be aware of this tendency for some women and help support their women peers by inviting them to speak up. Next time you are in a meeting, and there is a woman colleague who has not provided her perspective, perhaps ask if she has thoughts or perspectives she may want to share. Secondly, men can help amplify a female colleague’s stated point in a meeting by acknowledging she said it and repeating the point made. This encouragement will go a long way in ensuring more women’s voices are heard in the workplace. And always take the time to think about the other person you are communicating with and what his or her needs are; this is just simply the right thing to do.
Another communication difference is in regards to sharing feedback. Understanding how women and men like to receive feedback differently is helpful for both leaders and peers. After all, feedback is key to our professional growth and development, and no one should feel like walking on eggshells in any situation. Specifically, women tend to like to receive feedback throughout the course of a project as well as on the end result. Women also like to have the challenges and obstacles faced throughout a project acknowledged. Men, on the other hand, tend to prefer feedback only related to the final deliverable goal. Understanding these key differences in both sharing and receiving feedback will help make the work environment even more productive.
Diverse voices make our teams stronger and our collective performance better. A bit of awareness about our differences and how we should best work with those will go a long way to creating more inclusive environments for us all.