Like many girls and young women growing up in a patriarchal culture, I embodied this “less than” attitude as I grew up. While women are leaders in many regards, there is still a shadow that we live under. Women may have the education, the experience and the drive to successfully guide a team of people but still lack a well defined voice (and no, not “voice” as in Tenor and Bass).
Voice in this case is an extension of the person. It’s their brand, their way of doing things, their expertise and how it is communicated. Those who show strong leadership skills have often developed this sense of voice throughout their careers. For those who haven’t, it may be time to examine it further.
Determine your voice
A women, we need to be familiar enough with our voices to know how we come across to peers, staff and clients. Our personal set of values is directly connected to this, what we stand for, our values, what people can learn from us.
There is a need to be clear and concise about your voice, your stance and your ideas, and be sure that everything you do and say aligns with that.
Look for inspiration
There’s no shame in admiring the qualities of others, whether it’s a family member, a mentor, an industry leader, an iconic figure or a celebrity. Observe them closely. Have conversations with those you have access to.
For those whom you don’t have access to, watch their public appearances and read their writing. Find them wherever they are, in business, politics, sports, TV and note down the characteristics that appeal to you. It is not enough to just admire someone, figure out what it is about them specifically that draws you in. Note their confidence, their ability to build relationships, their network, their charisma, their intense knowledge of a particular area. Identify what intrigues you and roll with it. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
All the important lessons learned throughout the beginning and progression of your career are a part of your professional voice. The decisions you’ve made, the wins and the losses, they help to make up who you are.
One of the common mistakes women make is we feel that because we have a seat at the table and we say something, everything is good. It’s important for us to know that having a voice really means having a track record of success and accomplishments. That people want to listen to what you have to say because you’re saying something of value. So, use your voice and use it strategically.
For those women leaders looking to evolve, especially those in the younger end of the workforce spectrum, it might be time for experimentation. Identify low-risk scenarios in which different approaches are feasible. For this experiment, try to make a decision with consensus, then in an authoritative tone and then one in the middle. After doing this, it will become clear what style fits you.
You don’t have to do this in a high-risk client situation or in front of venture capitalists who will determine your funding future. Try making a plan with friends, getting your children to do what you need them to do, or sitting on a non-profit committee. Practice with your spouse, your friends, or your network. Just like building a business, this is a process. The earlier you are in your career, the more latitude you have to experiment.
Your voice and leadership matters.
When you begin to speak out for what you believe in and use your voice without apology, you not only empower yourself but all women and girls. You become a role model, and girls everywhere can begin to see themselves as leaders.
You might not get it right in the first year, the first business, the first finance pitch, the first launch, or maybe even the second or third. But awareness is the first step.