Is language holding women back?

By April 19, 2016Uncategorized

When Hilary Clinton spoke to her supporters after a recent successful round of primaries in the current presidential candidates’ race, she was lambasted for shouting in her excitement.

Somehow, shouting was not acceptable for her, yet when Donald Trump turns up the volume with a bit of fist pumping, it is seen as rousing, passionate, no-nonsense and perfectly normal.

Like it or not, language and how we use it can hold women back.

In business, the use of aggressive military vernacular is remarkably common. We set targets, fight battles, put businesses in our sights. But research has shown that if a woman shortlisted for a promotion or new job based on her skills uses such masterful language in an interview, she will most likely lose out to a man as our unconscious bias leads us to think she will be too pushy.

The greatest irony is that women’s distinct advantage over men is in the use of language and some of the softer skills of talking and listening.

Women are networking professionals and good at talking to each other. We are more inclined to test out ideas with other people – ask them for their opinion – listen and adapt.  Our networks are our strength.

We are also relationship specialists and are far more comfortable with a little vulnerability, from which we can build trust, than our male counterparts. For instance, a woman finds it easier to talk to her clients about families and children. This creates a strong basis for rapport as it goes to our values and our humanity far more than chat about the football results.

The other great advantage that women have today is that we are also prolific digital connectors. In a world where digital is disrupting every industry, women are the biggest users of the internet, of smart phones and social media. Being at ease with digital communication is another huge advantage.

In addition to our technical skills, we need to use the language that we are comfortable with, because that language can be exceptionally effective.

In a male-oriented business world, a woman who succeeds, juggling work, family and a social life, is often given the label ‘superwoman’. It’s a term I detest and another example of how language can be a barrier for women. It suggests that there is some secret magic formula that only a few can achieve. There’s not.

I am a wife, mother, technology professional and love triathlon. People have described me as superwoman. But I struggle to juggle the different aspects of my life and consider it the greatest accomplishment at the end of the week knowing that me, my husband and three kids have all made it to the right locations at the right time, in clean clothes and fully fed. 

Like many people in this world, I work hard, spend what time I can with my husband and children and muddle through the rest. I certainly won’t let language limit me; I’ll use it to empower me.

  • Taken from Emma McGuigan’s talk given to the MT Inspiring Women Conference in Edinburgh, March 17, 2016. Emma is the Technology MD for Accenture UKI.