Want to be heard? Speak up!

Posted by on Sep 24, 2012 in Work/occupation | 2 comments

Do women have an equal voice in groups?

Apparently the answer is no, especially when men comprise the majority at the table. And while this may appear to be trivial, it speaks volumes about what happens when men and women are part of important deliberating bodies, such as Advisory Boards or even political bodies. Who’s influencing whom, for example? Moreover, what can be done about?

Writing in the American Political Science Review, Assistant Professor of Political Science (Brigham Young) Christopher Karpowitz suggests that while more than 100 countries have mandated a 30% minimum quota for women on governing or political bodies, their voices are still not being heard and gender inequality is the rule, not the exception. Yet, the reason for this may be more complicated than at first glance; it seems that women don’t always speak up when given the opportunity. Toward that end, Karpowitz adds that “girls and boys are socialized to different gendered cultures of interaction and they carry these implicit scripts of behavior with them into adulthood.” Consequently, in a meeting where men dominate in number, they may also dominate in voice as the dynamic in the room shifts towards assertion, competition and dominance versus a spirit that is often considered feminine, i.e. cooperation, intimacy and inclusion.

Karpowitz and his colleagues point out that this paradigm of exclusion actually shifts when groups must come up with an unanimous decision. In fact, when the researchers challenged 94 groups of men and women to discuss the best way to distribute money that they theoretically earned together, they found that In the majority of cases and regardless of how proportioned the gender make up was, women spoke less than 75% of the time that their male peers spoke. When they were the minority, women consistently spoke less and were perceived as less influential by the group. However a shift took place when the majority rule was thrown out the window.

There’s an old say that ‘time is money.’ In the case of decision making, it appears that how much time one voices one opinion is more important than how many opportunities one is provided with to do so. The underlying rule of thumb is that the rules are more stringent and the outcomes have a greater stake. If you wish to play a role, speak up. It’s essential, not only for equality but also, because women bring “unique and helpful perspectives to [issues] under discussion.” Karpowitz points out what many of us intuitively know: “We’re not just losing the voice of someone who would say the same things as everybody else in the conversation.”


Read More

Unleash your power. Unleash your Talk.

Posted by on May 4, 2012 in women's health, Work/occupation | 6 comments

When you think ‘Bootcamp,’ you probably think fitness or the military, right? But what about a boot camp geared towards helping you grow professionally as a speaker, boost your self-confidence or develop new skills? All within the safety and support of two of your most trusted colleagues or friends? That’s what is so intriguing about my longtime friend Jill Foster’s Unleash Your Talk program.

I contacted Jill when I first heard about Unleash Your Talk, namely because I was so intrigued. And when we started to delve into exactly what it was, format resonated deeply — not only because of the deep respect I have for Jill and her skills — but also because it reflected on of my long time goals to encourage women to support one another.

No matter our age, situation, relationship status, creed, religion, or color we rely on our friendships and networks to raise us up and bring us out of the darkness into the light, to fully blossom, thrive and grow, to create, express and love.

  • Data from a study published in Psychological Review in 2000 suggests that women’s inherent response to stress is to ‘tend and befriend’ rather than ‘fight or flight;’ in other words, there is a biologically-defined strategy or pattern that involves caring for offspring, joining social groups, and gravitating towards friends under stressful circumstances. This is driven, at least in part, by the release of the hormone oxytocin, which coupled with endogenous opioids and other sex hormones, promotes maternal behavior as an alternative to the male-oriented fight and flee response.
  • Findings from the Nurses Health Study have also shown that friendships help prevent the development of physical impairment and facilitate a more joyful existence. What’s more, having a strong social network can lower blood pressure and heart rate and improve cholesterol levels.

The bottom line is that Mama Nature has provided us with a built-in prompt to maintain those ever important bonds. Our inherent tendency to nurture completes the picture. It appears that as women, we possess the strongest alternative strategy to aging in existence: our friends.

So, let’s get back to Unleash your Talk.  Jill has taken the premise of achieving long term gains in health and wellbeing, i.e. strengthening friendships and support networks and has applied the same philosophy to public speaking. Unleash Your Talk provides a means for women who want to explore new facets and avenues for growth in their professional lives to do so in an intimate, supportive environment. The ultimate goal is not only to identify your personal, professional beliefs that drive you but also to provide a strategy that allows you to share those skills with others in a meaningful fashion. And Jills says that whether or not participants select a four-hour or full-day intensive, they will achieve, at minimum, a stronger ability to assert and present themselves in a public setting,an approach to communicate persuasively in power situations (e.g. client/boss scenarios) and means to break through the barriers that keep them from achieving success, whatever that looks like (e.g. what if I look or sound imperfect?). The more intensive full day also includes three take-away speaker proposals, a video content/performance project and review, and ongoing access to a coach for 30 days.

For women in midlife, reentering the job force, changing careers or delving into more professional speaking roles can be paralyzing. I love that Jill has taken the basic tenets of health and wellness, i.e. support, caring for one another, trust and communication, and applied them to a strategy to empower and enable. When we think about it, most of us have one or two people we bounce ideas off of consistently, whether they are personally or professionally-oriented. Unleash Your Talk promotes the medical and social concept of trusted peers and utilizes this dynamic as a means to move us forward in a professional, structured capacity.

Jill says that “public speech is public power.” I would like to add that public speech is personally empowering and personal power.

Check out this recap of a bootcamp that Jill conducted a few weeks ago. Isn’t it time to unleash your power? And Unleash your Talk?


Based in the Washington, DC region, she is a speechwriter and delivery coach, helping people develop distinct message & voice as public speakers.

About Jill…

Cited by ForbesWoman as one of 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter, Jill Foster is principal of Live Your Talk. Based in the Washington, DC region, she is a speechwriter and delivery coach, helping people develop distinct message & voice as public speakers. Believing strong communities come from strong conversations (and public speaking skill) — Jill works with award-winning entrepreneurs, CEOs, and innovators makin’ it happen as public speakers — on stages likeTED and TEDxIgnite, plus a variety of keynotes around the globe. A social technology advocate, her work has been in conversation in The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Guardian UK, Washingtonian Magazine, and a range of media outlets.

Read More

Working through the menopausal transition..the first step is the deepest

Posted by on Feb 21, 2011 in Work/occupation | 1 comment

Back in July of last year, I wrote a post entitled ‘Working through the transition? Or is the transition working you?’ In it, I discussed some research being conducted in the UK that is looking at the effect of menopause and its accompanying symptoms on the work environment and preesenteism, i.e. impact on productivity while at work. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of women surveyed reported that their symptoms, namely fatigue and insomnia, were impacting workplace functioning and relationships with managers and co-workers. Less clear, however, were the roles of other factors, like perceptions and stress.

This raises one of the most common and yet inconsistently addressed issues during menopause: quality of life.

Quality of life is a subjective construct and one that is significantly influenced by a multitude of factors that intersect at any given time, factors such as how well we function, what we think about our lives, how we deal with stress, the type of social and economic support we have and overall wellbeing. And when you throw a bunch of symptoms like hot flashes, depression, anxiety, insomnia, backache, joint pain or forgetfulness on top of any of these, well, all hell can and does break loose!

When researchers looked at 184 women in both early and late transition to menopause who were part of the larger, Seattle Women’s Health study, they learned just how intricate the interrelationship between all these factors truly is. Indeed, among women in their mid to late 40s who were juggling work, families and relationships, the degree to which symptoms interfered with work most relied on how they perceived their health, their life stress and how depressed they were or were not. The findings:

  • Symptoms like hot flashes, mood issues, sleep issues, pain, or concentration had a significant impact on work productivity.
  • However, when researchers started to tease out and analyze the symptoms over time, they found that  how symptoms influenced how women felt about their health was most important. If women felt that their health was excellent or very good, symptoms tended affect their work productivity to a lesser extent than if they perceived their health to be poor or only moderate.
  • Perceived stress levels reportedly influenced both work productivity and social/intimate relationships.
  • Depression and difficulty concentrating were the final straws in the work/relationship back, affecting performance and the ability or interest in socializing or engaging in intimate or family relationships.

The one thing that these reports and the UK reports had in common were nighttime awakening.

So, let’s take a look at this. How we feel about our wellbeing affects work productivity, as does stress. If we are depressed or have difficulty concentrating, the ability to focus and be productive, either at work or in our worlds in general, starts to fall apart. Frequent awakening during the nighttime hours as a result of both aging and hormones can cause fatigue, depressed mood and concentration issues. In turn, this can influence how well we function  at work and at home and the quality of our relationship, to ourselves, our children and our partners.

The conclusion is that we need to step back, take stock and think about how we feel and how that is affecting our wellbeing and our lives.

The solution isn’t simple. Part of it lies in learning how to best address symptoms like sleep disturbances, depression or focus. The other lies in openly communicating to our work colleagues, our managers, our partners and our friends how productivity and our relationships may be suffering and actively involve them in finding solutions to improve wellbeing.

It’s hard work, no doubt. But the more insight we have, the better we are able to deal. And while it starts within, without it, the menopausal tendrils can extend far and widely into our lives.

The first step? Step back deep within yourself, and take stock. It may ultimately be the insight that you need to turn those symptoms on their side where they belong.

Read More

Working through the transition? Or is the transition working you?

Posted by on Jul 9, 2010 in menopause, Work/occupation | 2 comments

I ran across an interesting study examining how work affects menopause and visa versa. Initiated two years ago by Professor Amanda Griffiths of the Institute of Work, Health & Organizations at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the study aims to identify challenges that women face while working through their transition and also help raise employer awareness.

I contacted Professor Griffiths to learn more . Although she is still compiling her final data (culled from 900 women, ages 40+), she did share some interim nuggets that are pretty interesting.

The fact that menopause, or more specifically menopausal symptoms might affect life quality and work is not a novel idea. Numerous studies have shown that hot flashes in particular can significantly impact daily activities, especially when they are severe. In turn, hot flashes, night sweats and hormonal swings can significantly affect sleep and coping mechanisms. Hence it’s not surprising that among an initial group of 941 female police officers surveyed*, most agreed that the primary factors affecting their ability to function in their job were fatigue and insomnia. Nevertheless,  about 2/3rds said that they wouldn’t or didn’t disclose the fact that they were going through menopause to their managers, either because their managers were men, were younger (and therefore unlikely to understand or have much empathy) or because they felt embarrassed. This point of view only changed if the symptoms were so obvious that they felt they had to explain, if they felt that their ability to cope with their symptoms was less than stellar, if their performance was somehow being affected by their symptoms or if they felt the need to justify a change in their behavior at work.  However, I was heartened to read that many of the women felt comfortable sharing their experience with other colleagues who were similarly in the midst of menopause or had already gone through it.

Griffiths reports that a clear majority of women surveyed that expectations of their physical capacities did not change as they aged. Yet, less than half believed that their contributions were valued as much as their younger peers.

When asked what changes they’d like to see in their jobs to ease their way through the transition and challenges of growing older, most pointed out greater flexibility in working hours (e.g. flex time, no night shifts or since this was a police force, shifting from the front line to a desk job), access to workplace-focused health promotion, such as regular check ups and fitness program), improved awareness among managers of health-related changes in midlife and improvements in the physical working environment.

Griffiths says that more recently, she and her colleagues have surveyed women from all walks of career life, including education, administration and journalism and the final write-up of the study** will include these opinions as well. However, based on our correspondence, it appears that the difficulties that women face in the workplace during the transition are fairly universal. She explains that menopause is ‘taboo’ yet happens to 50% of workforce (I imagine that this number will only continue to grow as the population ages and we are forced due to economic constraints, to work well into retirement years.) “Evidence suggests that some women do experience a lot of difficulty – largely tiredness – much of which can be resolved with sensible line management and flexible work,” says Griffiths. However, “as with any other long-term health condition, employees should feel empowered to discuss health conditions with their line manager/supervisor,  otherwise the latter are not in a position to help.”

Isn’t it time for change? Rather than let the transition work us, shouldn’t we be looking for empowering ways to work through it? In the early days of this blog, I wrote that science has confirmed what women have known all along: social support networks are one of the strongest weapons we have against the aging process. Griffiths’ research confirms that by engaging female peers who are going through similar experiences, we have a stronger experience overall. Yet, she also points out very clearly that men need to be brought into the equation as well. The only way to foster understanding is to share and educate, right?

The research shows that women want their managers to be more aware the menopause doesn’t simply affect their personal lives but also their occupational health. Although sharing may be risky, we really need to ask ourselves how much we are risking by allowing the transition to work us. Time for change, don’t you think?

*The initial research was funded by the British Association of Women in Policing. **Dr. Griffiths’ larger study is funded by the British Occupational Health Foundation.

Read More

Gender and age inequality in film…and all that jazz

Posted by on Jun 25, 2010 in Work/occupation | 3 comments

Back in March, 2009, I wrote a post about the lack of roles for middle-aged women in film. Of the many inspirations for the topic, the most important was that a good friend had just had her screenplay (which largely focuses on a middle-aged female cast) rejected by the powers that be in Hollywood.

Hence, I was not surprised to learn that findings from a study released earlier this year by the USC Annenburg School for Communication and Journalism demonstrated that women continue to comprise the minority both on the screen and behind the camera, except when they are driving decisions, e.g., as directors, producers and even as writers. After analyzing the top 100-grossing films of 2007 for prevalence/nature of male and female speaking roles, gender of behind the scenes workers and specific characteristics driving the story, the researchers found that:

  • Less than a third (29.9%) of 4,379 speaking characters/roles were female
  • Less than 20% (n=18) of the films sampled featured a solo female as a main character
  • Only 2.7% (n=3) of the directors, 11.2% (n=35) of the writers and 20.5% (n=174) of the producers were women; in other words, women comprised only 17% of all directors, writers and producers of these films, while men accounted for 83%
  • Films with at least one female director tended to depict a greater percentage of girls and women on screen (44.6% or n=70) although in this analysis, there were only 3 directors. The researchers state they they observed a similar interaction between the sex of the director and number of women on screen when analyzing Academy Award Best Picture nominated films between the years 19777-2006. Conversely, when men were the film directors, the percentage of women onscreen declined by almost 50% (to 29.3% or n= 1,238)
  • To a lesser extent, having female writers or producers tended to feature more women on-screen

More disturbing, women who played on-screen parts tended to function as eye candy, and were thin, physically attractive and wore more revealing clothing. This changed when they were in leading roles and given worthier pursuits, such as fighting societal and personal injustices. Not surprisingly, however, when the leading females were lost, they tended to turn to men or employment to fill their void. Female relationships, when explored, tended to provide conflict within the story and did not necessarily portray the supportive side of these relationships.

One thing I find especially interesting about this research is that it didn’t focus much on age divisions except for with regards to how women are portrayed on screen. In this regard, the researchers noted that the films that portrayed women were more concerrned with their nubile qualities, meaning that they were overwhelmingly young and sexy. When age was taken into account, women between the agers of 40 and 64 only comprised less than a quarter (23.8%) of the characters while women between the ages of 21 and 39 comprised more than half (53.2%). (Note that comparable figures for men were 38.6% and 44.1%, respectively.)

Not only does the gender gap in entertainment continue to exist within many layers of the industry, but it doesn’t appear to have changed much over several decades, despite the inroads made by women in other areas of society.

Clearly,  women need to leverage what little power they have in the industry to change this paradigm. Still, one troubling factor remains – middle age is equivalent to “has been,” even when the director, writer or producer is a woman. Women like Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren are not even a dime a dozen but exceptions to every rule that’s been made, at least when it comes to entertainment. I’ve read numerous articles on women in television news being pushed out their jobs because of their age.

Don’t you think that we we need to step back and ask ourselves how an empowered woman can better empower all of her female peers?

Read More

That ole glass ceiling still isn’t cracked

Posted by on May 17, 2010 in Work/occupation | 10 comments

You know that pay gap that our Feminist friends have been battling for decades now? It’s still there.

I’m not especially shocked by this revelation. However, what I am a bit shocked about is that contention that the foundation of gender pay disparities rests on a woman’s ability to negotiate salary increases, so much so, that they require a “toolkit” to work their way around this issue.

Reporter Tara Siegel Bernard, who writes about negotiating strategies in this New York Times piece explains that “part of the pay gap” can be easily explained by women’s departure from the workplace to raise a family (leaving them with less experience than their male peers) or that men “tend to work in higher-paying occupations.” Yet, she still quotes a source that claims that about about 40% of the wage gap is unexplained, which is accounted for, at least in part, by women’s negotiating skills (or lack thereof). Her advice?  Be proactive and prepared (great advice) but more importantly, “tailor” your negotiation. This means that women not only need to explain why their request is appropriate but also be sure not to harm their work relationships. Hence, a woman should frame her request based on the company’s needs rather than her own. Additionally, a woman should reexamine how her raise (and theoretically greater responsibility) might affect their home lives.

Say what?!

What year are we living in? And why should women be expected to negotiate merit-based salary increases in a way that is soothing to their bosses? Isn’t this a strategy that ultimately perpetuates the gap and glass ceiling and gender inequities?

When I worked in the corporate world, I was averaging 2o% salary increases on a yearly basis. Those increases were based on merit, performance and the amount of business I was running on the company’s behalf. I did not mince words, massage my requests or consider if rewards for my hard work would negatively affect other commitments in my life. Granted, the days of large salary increases are long gone. But so should the days of granting rewards based on gender be gone.

Bernard also writes that women who leave the formal workplace ultimately end up with less experience than their male counterparts. In a day and age where women (and men) are increasingly entering the world as work-at-home consultants or telecommuters, the experience argument goes right out the window. In fact, I recently read that more and more people prefer to consult on a shorter-term basis, moving from job to job or field to field with ever greater ease.

Finally, while many women choose lower paying career paths, many do not. In fact, according to a recent global survey (which I wrote about late last year) women own 40% of all US businesses and about 51% work in high-paying management, professional and related fields. (U.S. Department of Labor, 2008).

I believe that it’s imperative to provide women with proper guidance and education that empowers them and helps them lower that glass ceiling and narrow disparities in the workplace. Let’s start by fighting the stereotypes and treating them as equal players on the field.

What do you think?

Read More