This article was originally published under the title "An aspiring female leader? This is why the art of communication is bound to make an impact on your way to the top" on CEOWORLD.biz a prestigious platform for business insights.
We all know that the position of women in business is not yet what it should be.
We read about global statistics on the views of executives on this issue, about the EU's opinions and good intentions on the subject, about the awareness-raising campaigns and panels that NGOs have been organising for years to support the position of women, but we rarely read about what aspiring female executives themselves can do to climb more rungs on the corporate ladder.
And since communication is one of those tools that determine the balance in people and business relationships, let’s see what the magic wand of communication can do to eliminate some overlooked obstacles that continue to get in the way of female executives.
1. Set your limits when it comes to diminutives, or, rather, "the power of diminutives as a manipulative mechanism"
Quite a few women may feel flattered when they are referred to in saccharine terms such as sugar, sweetie or honey which are mainly, though not exclusively, used for addressing women. But while these diminutives are used to show affection, they are also used to suggest that something or someone is not important.
“Women may be described or referred to in terms of food imagery, which is insulting,” says Janet Holmes in her book on sociolinguistics. And this is just one of the many examples Holmes uses to point out the fact that “women are often treated linguistically as inferior simply because of their gender and regardless of their actual power or social status” (idem).
Learn the power of language and use it not only to build, manage, and protect your image but also to set limits on how those around you use it as a tool to manipulate you. Language is a loaded weapon as Dwight Bolinger says in his book of the same name and as such has the power to break down or perpetuate social stereotypes.
Therefore, if at work you have set your sights on climbing the ladder of hierarchy, the next time you feel flattered when a colleague or someone higher up the pecking order addresses you using a nickname or a phrase with a diminutive suffix, think again.
2. Communication builds careers
Do you know many corporate heads who stutter as they speak in public? Who blush when contributing at meetings? And if so, how long have they been at the top? If you look around, you’ll see that the executives who have been trained in public speaking and who know the power of corporate communication are those who are most likely to excel in business.
Whether innate or acquired, communication is one of the qualities of leaders. If you aspire to a career in the upper management of your company, the best thing to do is to deep dive into communication issues. Don’t limit your focus to improving the way you communicate. Make sure you also learn how corporate communication works, what tools it uses, how a company communicates in times of crisis, how it communicates with employees and stakeholders, how it uses modern communication tools, etc. These are topics that are essential for every true leader to understand.
You can start your project by regularly reading the blog of US-based Spin Sucks’ founder, Gini Dietrich. As she says, “If you need help with anything related to marketing, communications, or entrepreneurship, there’s a good chance we’ve written about it”.
3. The communication power of clothing
Clothing is a language, a visual one. It can speak to people in different forms of communication and reveals to those around us certain details about our personality, background, and financial status.
According to Wiana (2016) and Davis (1984), clothing represents and adds extra dimensions to our identity. Therefore, the outfit we pick out every morning is truly meaningful as, among other things, it can reveal our mood and level of confidence.
As a form of language, clothing conveys a non-verbal statement. Use it to strengthen the statement you want to make to those around you. The colours, or lack of colours, the line, the fabric, each have their own message.
Even the absence of a cared-for appearance sends a powerful message. The question is, what message do you want to convey to those around you? What is your own personal statement? And what strategy for rising to the top does it serve?
4. The problem at its root is personal. That’s why it becomes collective.
“We have clear guidelines for this particular preschool cartoon. The woman should always be a little behind the man,” an art director jokingly told his party acquaintances, 20 years ago.
The advertising industry and the image industry, in general, have great power to shape social trends and norms. By systematically including sexist elements in their works for decades, they have in fact cemented the position of women as objects of desire rather than as equals of the male sex.
It is certain that at this very moment, somewhere in the world, in the brainstorming room of some advertising company, a male advertiser, cartoonist, filmmaker is presenting to his team of men and women a script for the next ad, children’s cartoon, music clip or film that, in a subtle way that is not necessarily immediately noticeable by the viewer, will degrade the role of women. These companies will be around for many years to come. The habit does not die out overnight.
The question is not why – for their own personal reasons – they will keep degrading women through their work. The real question is, if you are part of such a company, just what exactly are you doing at the table with them?
Many companies now claim that they adopt policies to provide equal opportunities for managers regardless of their gender.
If you work in such a company, take the time to write the names of the senior managers down on a piece of paper. How many are men and how many are women? Based on worldwide statistics, it is most likely that out of 10 top executives, three will be women and seven will be men. The European Union has set a target of increasing this number to… four.
Are you happy with that quota? Do you feel grateful that three women have been allowed the opportunity to advance? If so, then perhaps it is time for you to raise the bar of your own expectations a little higher. Equal means equal. Nothing less than that.
Therefore, take advantage of your company’s opportunity to implement a gender equality policy and reclaim. Reclaim on the basis of merit, on the basis of your work, your skills, your love for your job. Reclaim the top. If you are skilful, you deserve it.
About the author
Sophia Halkidou is a Corporate communication, Leadership communication, and Reputational Risk consultant.
She is the founder of wellenwide, an independent, Athens-based corporate affairs and PR firm; a former General Manager at leading PR agencies in Greece and the Head of Public Affairs of the EU TACIS programme for communication with the citizens in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, 1999).
She holds a BA (Hons) Faculty of Philosophy, French Literature and Culture and a BA (Hons) in Drama - National Theater of Northern Greece.
She is the participatory researcher, designer and coach of Artwaykening™ Employees (an arts-based organisational development methodology for empathy, analytical & synthesis thinking in business) and of Arista (an awareness initiative for the issue of Underachievement in Gifted and Talented Children in Greece so that "the potential won't be lost")