Women’s Issues: Communication, the C-Suite and Compensation

by Michael Haberman on May 7, 2009 · 0 comments

I received a newsletter the other day called Communicator’s Corner, written by Sally L. Williamson. Her newsletter was entitled “WHEN THE BEST INTENTIONS LEAD TO WRONG IMPRESSIONS”. (Sorry no link) In the article she makes the statement “By 2016, women are projected to receive over 60% of bachelor’s degrees, 61% of master’s degrees and over 53% of all doctorate and professional degrees.* The Department of Education says that women have been earning more degrees than men for over 28 years. And yet, the studies prove that women still aren’t moving up the corporate structure very quickly. Last year, Catalyst updated their statistics regarding women who sit on Fortune 500 Boards and found that the percentage (less than 15%) is simply not changing.” Ms. Williamson then goes on to make several observations on common impressions on why this may be occurring. These include:

  • Impression #1: A Woman Can Do Everything. There is evidence in both personal and professional lives that women can multi-task better than most men. Womea are as frustrated with their workloads and somewhere along the line sense that they need to do it all to get ahead. Men who typically learn to do a few things very well, rather than trying to do everything. Managers are often unsure of what to do with someone who insists on taking on every task. And, in fact, it doesn’t take long before this good intention can turn into the impression of someone who can’t delegate or who doesn’t manage others well. Women who try to do everything can get left behind doing all of the little things, rather than running the big initiatives.

    Williamson’s Coaching Note: Women need to hone their skills and excel at something specific, not everything. It’s hard to quantify the impact on a department or project if you’ve done a little of everything. Instead, if you’ve focused on one project and managed it from start to finish, it’s easier to align yourself with success.

  • Impression #2: Let’s Discuss! Women frequently approach business situations with a desire to talk it through and debate all of the ideas and options, which can translate to “She talks too much.” Williamson is convinced that women think out loud and men really don’t! Women who get bogged down in the details by their desire to talk things out can get alienated by male counterparts.

    Williamson’s Coaching Note: The ability to talk things out is a trait that women actually use to their advantage when they are in roles to facilitate or lead discussions. But, it’s important to learn how to read an audience by listening first. Women need to listen first and speak last; it isn’t always necessary to be heard on every topic. Your presence and non-verbal reactions often say more than your words.

  • Impression #3: I’m Tough as Nails. Often, women feel as though they have to be aggressive with their communication in the workplace in order to get ahead and be heard. Women have always been told “Don’t let anyone step all over you, speak up for yourself.” (My comment: Probably by other women and well meaning fathers.) I know that I’ve experienced that in my own career, so I’m guessing others have, as well. When a woman thinks she is being assertive, at times, it can be perceived as “She’s so negative and fights everything.” Sometimes, women put on boxing gloves to defend an idea without even realizing that we’ve stepped into the ring. Men rarely challenge ideas in meetings; they tend to take debates out into the hall. When companies want fighters, they promote the football all-star or the Navy Seal. Companies tend to promote women to bring intuitive skills and warmth to a team.

    Williamson’s Coaching Note: Aggressiveness is not a trait that most people like and it’s important for women to understand when they are fighting or pushing others away with their communication style. Williamson finds that women don’t even realize that they’re being viewed this way. By becoming more aware of these types of impressions, women gain credibility when they simply own who they have become and project a sense of confidence about what they can achieve – all before saying a word.

    Williamson concludes “Management consultants have said for years that women have natural nurturing traits that make them effective as communicators and team leaders. But, the statistics above make it clear; it’s still a challenge for women to get leadership roles. Becoming aware of how good intentions can lead to wrong impressions will help women make different choices in how they communicate.”

Some very good observations. Check out her site, SW&A; for more information.

Along these same lines, with all the education women have today you would think we would be seeing an increase in the wages that are being paid. After all more and more women are in HR and should be able to assert some influence on “fair wages.” But the increases don’t seem to be coming. An alternative explanation was written about over at the Compensation Cafe by Becky Regan in her blog post Could It Simply Be Motherhood? : A Contrarian Rationale For Gender Pay Equity. This is a post that might stir up some conversation. Check it out.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann Bares May 7, 2009 at 11:59 am


Interesting post. I have to admit that I find myself bristling at some of the sweeping generalizations about women’s communication and leadership styles described here. While there may be some truth to these statements, I think there is danger in promoting stereotypes about women leaders – just like there is danger in promoting stereotypes about baby boomers, or Asians, or blondes.

But an interesting piece, nonetheless. Will be curious to hear others’ reaction.

Thanks, also, for the link back to Becky’s post at the Compensation Cafe. Would love to see more discussion on that research as well!


Becky Regan May 7, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Thanks, Michael for the referral to my recent blogpost at Compensation Cafe. You raise some very legitimate points on key differences between men and women and how women can use their natural strengths (and femininity, I might add) to succeed. My next post on Compensation Cafe will discuss my personal experience with gender pay discrimination at a financial institution in the early 90’s. Stay tuned!


Michael D. Haberman, SPHR May 7, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Generalities will often get you in trouble, however, generalities exist for a reason, there is some truth to them. Humor is based on generalities, that is why it works. And in Sally Williamson’s defense, you cannot give full treatment to such a deep subject in such a short space as a newsletter article.

But as the article got me to thinking, and you, it might start as a good conversation starter.

Becky’s post was also a good one.


Michael D. Haberman, SPHR May 7, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Becky, I am looking forward to your next post. This one reminded me of the book title It is not the glass ceiling it is athe sticky floor. http://www.amazon.com/Its-Glass-Ceiling-Sticky-Floor/dp/1573927457/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top


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