Expert urges employers to do more to listen to all staff – not just the ‘alpha males’

Women feel less able to speak up in the workplace than their male counterparts, a new study has found.

Just 8 per cent of women, in comparison to 15 per cent of men, said they found it easy to make their voice heard in the workplace. The women surveyed were also 60 per cent more likely than men to say they never felt comfortable expressing themselves in a work environment 3.7 per cent of women compared to 2.2 per cent of men.

The research from RADA in Business a subsidiary of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art revealed that, of the 1,000 business people who took part in the study, female respondents were 33 per cent more likely to feel uncomfortable in meetings with their manager than their male counterparts, and 12 per cent more likely to feel uncomfortable meeting with an organisation’s board members or senior management.

Female respondents also typically said they felt more comfortable when meetings were limited to one-to-ones, rather than larger affairs.

Denise Keating, chief executive at the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion, told People Management that the study identifies a “major problem” with employers and HR professionals who believe that simply increasing the number of women on boards is all businesses need to do to improve diversity. 

“In shutting down women’s voices, whether consciously or unconsciously, employers are failing to take advantage of the benefits gender diversity brings,” she said. “The main issue at play is the social contradiction that says vocal women are bossy, but vocal men are assertive. This nurture-based behaviour means women can be talked down easily in a male-dominated workplace.” 

Keating encouraged employers to do more to make all their employees’ voices heard, rather than “just the alpha males”. She said: “This should be a basic courtesy, let alone a sensible way to do business.”

Liz Barber, client director at RADA in Business, said the findings proved that organisations had a “way to go” to make sure women feel as comfortable and confident in expressing themselves at work as men do.

“Small changes to your physicality, breath and voice can make a huge difference in getting your voice heard and improving your impact,” said Barber. “Owning your space, using your peripheral vision and speaking with confidence are just some of the techniques we teach actors, but the same techniques apply when communicating in a business environment.”

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