If You Want to Break a Glass Ceiling then Watch Your Tone… Just Not How You’d Think
If you are a woman who has ever tried to break a glass ceiling in her career, start a relationship or have gotten advice from anyone on either of these topics, you know that it’s hard to win when it comes to our tone. With just a cursory Google search on the tone of women in the workplace, I came across a ton of pieces discussing the conundrum that declared that we will never find the “right” balance or that we need to beware of coming off as a “bossy bitch.”
Unfortunately, loaded descriptions like saying someone sounds like a “nagging wife”,“scolding school teacher,” a bitch, bossy, and the like are not commonly wielded at men (hmmm think that helps reinforce the glass ceiling much?).
We must navigate this landmine every day in order to strike a balance between being meek and “a bitch.” Anyone who saw commentary on Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, knows that this balance is damn near impossible, especially since the systemic sexism in which these complaints are rooted come from both men and women. Sometimes women are even more critical of their fellow kind, meaning we too are guilty of reinforcing the glass ceiling.
So, what are we to do?
I am here to give you some advice based on my own experience as a woman trying to make it in the male-dominated, often misogynistic, world of politics and labor.
1. First off, it’s OK to have a professional tone and a personal tone.
I will talk a lot about authenticity, but that’s not to mean that humans are not allowed to be chameleons in their manner of speaking. In fact, it is preferred to leave your vocal fry, slang and use of “OMG” at home if you want to be seen as professional.
Thanks to my chubby face, I have always looked much younger than my age and experience level. I have walked into many labor halls surrounded by middle-aged men and many expect me to have the voice of a little girl. I guess I’m lucky in the fact that my Italian upbringing made my speech patterns loud, and my luck of the draw made my register a bit lower. It’s silly, but this is what has helped me command a room who has already decided they couldn’t take me seriously before I opened my mouth.
Most of us take on a deeper or more authoritative voice, especially on the phone, yet make sure it’s not too much of a put on. You don’t want to seem like you are playing a role, which leads us to number 2…
2. Find your “authentic” voice.
How do you do this? The best way I have found is to take note of what you sound like when you aren’t thinking about it. Say you are in a semi-professional setting like at the doctor’s office and someone asks you to fill out forms and take a seat. When you say “Ok, thanks.” What does your voice sound like? This is your natural tone. Your authentic voice is the tone you use when you aren’t thinking about it and aren’t trying to be familial or professional. It’s neutral.
Be proud of your voice, but if you feel you want to take on a deeper tone for the conference calls as stated above, don’t go too much lower than what you already are. Again, I have found more people respect me when I don’t seem affected.
3. Pay attention to tonal changes when speaking to men or asking for things.
It is always wise for one to check oneself, before wrecking oneself.
Once I started to think about writing this piece I noticed this variation everywhere from everyone – including myself. I noticed friends answering the phone for boyfriends, with a baby soft lilt and drawn out “Hiiiiii,” when the “heeyyy!” they just had for their best gay male friend or gal, might have had the colloquial drawl but not the submissive tenor. I noticed a woman asking the male IT guy who was a subordinate at the office “Hi, could you please help me if you don’t mind? Sorry” but again, in a timid tone as if conditioned to avoid sounding “naggy.” I noticed friends taking a more helpless-sounding approach when asking for something.
We already know that we as womankind need to stop saying “sorry” but we also need to stop using a tone of voice which signals that our mere existence or basic requests require an apology. This is subconsciously undermining our authority in the workplace, (again, reinforcing the damn glass ceiling), our strength as women, and is just so aggravatingly fake to listen to once you notice it. Just as we should not try so hard to “sound tough,” let’s stop trying to sound “ever so sorry to be a bother” when speaking to men or asking for something. Again, as close to an authentic neutral tone as we can get for all occasions will serve you best.
We need to stop using a tone of voice which signals that our mere existence or basic requests require an apology.
4. Stop worrying too much about what other people want from you.
If people around you are upset about how “bossy” you may be or would like you to be more malleable to suit their needs, this is a problem- their problem to be specific.
By taking what other people want you to be and internalizing it, you are cannibalizing your own sense of self and that’s messed up. So, if you have found your authentic voice and it’s seen as too harsh or too high-pitched, still own it. Like I said, don’t ever alter it too much or you ultimately lose yourself. You will never be happy if you replace your own beliefs, desires or voice with those of others.
I can pretty much guarantee that my male counterparts over the years have not thought this much about their tone or have been taken aside to discuss it ever. They open their mouths and speak without subconscious affect. My true confidence in my voice has helped be break through the glass ceiling in government offices starting at age 24. It’s taken me a bit of time to hone in on the issue and deprogram but my life is all the better for it.
Where do you notice a change in your tone most? Do you feel empowered to cut that out? Let me know.