Communication is key for female career progression

Having good communication skills are a must in the modern workplace - even more so when you are an ambitious female profressional.

We all know that being a good communicator is important for career progression, but according to award-winning career coach and psychometric trainer Rita Chowdhry this is even more vital when you are a woman.

Here, she explains how ambitious female professionals can break through the gender barrier with a SAVVI approach to speaking.

While diversity drives are slowly increasing the number of female executives within British companies, it still remains the case that there is a distinct lack of gender diversity at board level.

The most recent figures make for sorry reading. A study by Cranfield University, conducted as part of its 20th FTSE Women on Boards Report, revealed that there has been a marked drop in the number of women occupying chief executive (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO) or other executive roles on FTSE 250 boards, while at FTSE 100 companies the numbers remain static.

Woeful situation

According to the research, the number of women holding senior executive roles at FTSE 250 firms has actually slipped to just 6.4%, while remaining at 9.7% within FTSE 100 companies. The report, itself, describes this as a “woeful situation”, particularly because the FTSE 250 is typically considered to be the reservoir that feeds into larger FTSE 100 companies.

While the first challenge is actually gaining admission to what, sadly, remains largely a preserve of privileged, white males — something I cover in my article — the next biggest hurdle is to get your voice heard once you are in the role.

For it is still a truth that the workplace is male-dominated not just in the gender split but also in attitudes. As such, women can and do struggle to have their input registered and recognised among their male colleagues. Recently, Nicky Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — one of only 45 female cabinet ministers since 1929 — attended the launch event for my new self-help book, Get SAVVI, having graciously agreed to be one of the VIP role models featured within its pages.

Speaking to the audience, she noted just how tough it is for a female voice to carry weight. “As a woman, and it’s about any environment, many have the experience of sitting in a meeting, or any gathering, saying something and it just goes nowhere. Then a guy says the same thing, and they go, ‘That’s a brilliant point’.”

Having worked with hundreds of female professionals through my consultancy, Savran, I hear this same refrain time and again. It is a cold, hard fact that if you are a woman seeking to enjoy the same levels of respect and acknowledgement as your male counterparts then it is crucial to communicate on a level that breaks through the gender bias and appeals to all listeners.

This is not as difficult as it may sound. It all comes down to gaining an appreciation of the personalities that you are dealing with and then tailoring your communication skills to cater to the needs of each. For every individual is, in a sense, like a radio receiver. They tune into to certain manners of speaking that reflects their personal values and attitudes, and everything else is dismissed as static. The key, then, is to know their frequencies.

Personalty types

Personality types can broadly be broken down into four primary categories, which are covered by the acronym ‘DISC’: Dominant (active and task focused); Influencer (active and people focused); Steady (passive and people focused); and Compliant (passive and task focused).

Before anything else, and as I teach as part of my own SAVVI framework for professional advancement, it is imperative that you first come to know your own personality type as this will determine your own innate strengths and weaknesses as a communicator. My other article, mentioned above, goes into this in more depth and I will only add that professional coaching with an experienced psychometric tester is the best route to go down in coming to learn this essential detail.

Once you do know, and have also gained the skill of recognising the personality types of your colleagues, then you can move forward to the final stage in the process: adapting your style so it matches, or is at least closer, to the communication style of the receiver. This is what I refer to as ‘flowering your communication’.

Power of verbal communication

When explaining the power of verbal communication to my clients, I describe the message behind a short film about an old blind man begging on a street in Glasgow. The man sits on a pavement with a cardboard sign that tells people, ‘I’m blind. Please help.’

Throughout the morning many people walk past him, too busy to give him the time of day or any loose change. Only a handful stop to drop a few coins. Then, a woman who notices that most people ignore the blind man approaches him and picks up his sign. She writes a new message on the other side and places it back on the ground. Within minutes, every passer-by is throwing down money, several coins at a time, for the blind man. The man can’t believe the sound of the heavy shower of coins. Later, the woman comes back. The man recognises her from the touch of her shoes.

 “What did you do to my sign?” he asks her. She replies, “It’s the same, but different words.”. She had changed the sign to read: ‘It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.’

This simple story reveals the extraordinary power of words to change human response to the same situation. It’s a lesson in how we can make the greatest impact by carefully choosing our words for any given audience. Successful verbal communication—and your choice of words—really can enhance, or even save, relationships.

Know your D, I, S and Cs

With an awareness of DISC, it suddenly becomes clear how to talk to male (and female) colleagues in a way that they will respond to. For example, the CEO of a business is often found to be a classic ‘D’ type as a dominant personality makes for a natural leader who thrives in solving problems and is motivated to achieve goals.

A ‘D’, thinks and speaks quickly, whereas an S type— the quintessential ‘team player’—is more considered and processes information at a slower pace. If you don’t know that about either then there is a significant risk of miscommunication. You may not get to the facts and supporting evidence quickly enough for a ‘D’, and you may misinterpret an ‘S’s delay in responding to indicate that they are disinterested in what you’re saying.

If you are a ‘D’ yourself then you will probably be very direct in your communication, often telling a colleague what they need to do, and in a specific way. An ‘S’, however, would deliver the same request in a far less forceful and more indirect fashion. Bearing in mind that the ‘S’ type does not usually respond well to pressure or the need to give a rapid response, a ‘D’ would benefit from modifying their style to meet half way and say, for example, “You may want to consider this.” The same goes if talking to an ‘I’ type, who doesn’t react well to feeling controlled.

The principle applies equally the other way around, with the ‘S’ or ‘I’ needing to try and inject a little more certainty and force into what they say when around a ‘D’, and to cut down on the waffle and go straight to the point, with concrete facts, when conversing with a ‘C’, who are methodical and data-orientated (and, therefore, are often found in CFO roles).

Useful guide

Below is a useful guide to navigating the DISC communication grid, which indicates more fully how to communicate with the different personality types.

Communication makes all the difference

SAVVI communicators understand that effective verbal communication, adapted to one’s audience, builds positive relationships, earns respect, and wins promotions. A good case in point is the story of a female senior manager operating within the financial sector. When I first met her, she complained that she was doing the work of a director without the given title and associated rewards.

Working together, we identified that she was an ‘S’ type, and therefore keen to avoid any conversations that could result in conflict. Furthermore, she would not boast about her work, which was exceptional and had saved her company millions, as she saw this as egotistical, and felt that her work should do all the talking. She rehearsed and role-played conversations to be more direct, highlighting her achievements and the impact it had on the  business’ bottom line.

Simply by changing her communication style to more closely adhere to that expected of a director, and by addressing her own weaknesses in highlighting her value to the business, she became more confident and more effective in influencing her line manager and other directors in supporting her promotion. Once this was all achieved, I’m happy to say that she secured the long-overdue directorship.

You can do this too, and still be authentic with it. Like with the story of the blind man, you just need to be make some small tweaks in the way you communicate and through training and practise it will become part of who you are.
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