A difficult reality of the business world is that women are often talked over or all-together ignored in meetings — both in-person and increasingly virtually, as well.
In April 2020, Alisha Haridasani Gupta penned an article in the New York Times “It’s Not Just You: In Online Meetings, Many Women Can’t Get a Word In”. Here, she lays bare the many challenges women face in being heard: interruptions, being talked over, or having credit taken for their ideas.
This is a systemic double-standard: authority is assigned disproportionately to men who speak often and loudly just as women are punished for that same passion, viewed as ‘too emotional’.
It’s not as simple as increasing volume. It’s not as straight-forward as addressing confidence. The burden of change — it must be said — is a responsibility for all that are part of the equation, not just those who struggle.
While in the corporate world, I made it a point as a man speaking in meetings to defer my time to women, especially when someone defaulted to looking at me first. If I interrupted, I apologized and encouraged the person speaking to continue.
Accountable steps pave a road to reform. The road is long.
I connected with Claudia Catania, a veteran voice teacher and singer (with 22 Metropolitan Opera productions to her name) as well as a certified psychoanalyst. Together, we grappled with the idea of an authentic voice and how it might be used to change the current dynamic for anyone that feels they’re not being heard.
What, in your mind, makes an authentic voice?
[In the arts world] people who are stars have authentic voices. The people who are ensemble singers do not. That’s just the truth. They are looking for a mechanical way to produce the sound that blends in with everybody else and it’s just fine. The authentic voices are the people who dare to be different.
However, she cautions:
When my ego gets in the way, my voice is no longer authentic. If I am not interested in you, and I’m only interested in what I have to say, my voice is not authentic.
What is an effective way to get a point across?
I have to know what I want to say, and I have to break it down into very simple things that people can remember. I worked at Goldman Sachs for a while, and I taught the investment bankers communication skills. And what we said to them was, “Break it down into three. If you break it down into three, people can remember three.
People will try to speak over you and they will try to override you. Frankly, it has nothing to do with you. It has to do with them. It has to do with their worry about themselves. Their worry about you thinking that they’re good.
Once all that gets out of the way, then you have to say, “Excuse me, I said this and I want to say it again. And I want feedback from you.”
And then in the feedback, you get the idea of whether or not they heard you. I don’t think you have to be the loudest person in the room, but I think that not giving up is a huge quality.
What about the physical aspect of voice?
When you get up in front of somebody, you’re nervous, and so the breath is the first thing that goes.
People take the breath in and then they don’t let it go, and then they do what we call ‘stack’, and they take in more, and they take in more, and they take in more. And everybody gets tense.
Sing every day, 20 minutes a day —doesn’t matter what. Breathe in deeply, breathe into your ribs, drop over and breathe in and hold that breath, and then let it go — so you get the idea of really taking the breath in and letting the breath go.
Is there a point at which it’s too late to develop your voice?
Americans, the way we’re structured, it’s a bit self-destructive. We get a job, we work till we retire, then we retire and die. We’re not willing to turn the page.
I don’t think it’s ever too late to harness your voice. Be willing to harness it in a different way. I don’t think it’s ever too late to harness who you are.
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