All the things She Said running through my head...

As part of our Women in data and Research group I recently had the chance to participate in a new professional, and personal, development programme She Said! Billed as ‘a guide for millennial women to speaking and being heard’, I was interested to delve into the topics covered, discussing, and debating with my colleagues how aspects like our body language, personality traits and behavioural styles impact how we communicate and engage others.

As you might expect, it was a thought-provoking course, highlighting challenges for women that I wasn’t conscious of – as well as those I was – and providing practical solutions to building confidence and being heard.

For me, a Project Management resource that works closely alongside data and analytics colleagues, I reflected on how the learning could also be applied within our profession to accelerate our ambition to change our organisational data culture!

Is ‘speaking up’ more important than working hard?

Patricia Seabright, author, and creator of She Said, explains that there is a strong correlation between workplace status and pay, and the ability to speak up for yourself, meaning that working hard in the background and avoiding increasing your visibility could be detrimental to your career.

Many of us, not only women, don’t like public speaking and so actively avoid it. However, what I’ve witnessed working with analytics colleagues is that it’s a critical skill for increasing the visibility and potential impact of our work. It doesn’t matter how hard you work on a piece of analysis, or how robust your methods are, if you don’t also share it well.

Much of our professional reputation in the workplace is built on what people see and hear in meetings, events, or presentations, this is our golden opportunity to build credibility in our work, so empowering ourselves and each other to speak ensures that we achieve both our personal and professional potential. Next time you’re planning to present ask yourself how you can advocate for yourself and for others, encouraging each other to speak up, increase visibility, AND promote gender balance in your organisation.

Are we undermining ourselves?

Talking is the mechanism by which humans build networks and affirm our place in the social hierarchy, and language is fundamental in conveying meaning, and in how people react to you.

Women tend to sub-consciously use language that can erode the sentiment of their message and undermine their authority. But when I think back to my past week of meetings, I can recall many occasions where colleagues used self-effacing language, such as apologising or using minimisers and qualifiers, which can make them seem like they aren’t confident in what they are saying. Let’s all drop the “maybe I’m wrong but…” as well as the annoying “so, errs and um” fillers – we are the experts in our field and as such need to focus on demonstrating confidence in our knowledge and ability and expressing this to others via how we say what we want to say.

The ‘likeability paradox’

Traditionally, women are considered either liked OR respected, not both, a dilemma described as the ‘likeability paradox’. Characteristics are interpreted differently in women than they are in men, for example, assertiveness and determination in a man is regarded as professionally advantageous, however the same traits in a woman can be seen as aggressive resulting in negative judgment. Women also typically worry more about how they are perceived, and this fear of judgement can be a huge silencing factor. Ultimately the likeability paradox is driven by an unconscious bias. Bias is something we discuss often in the application of data science and is an easy practical takeaway that we can all be more mindful of in building good relationships!

We have found that the most important element of building data literacy in the public sector – and probably any organisation – is to establish a trusting relationship between analytics professionals and stakeholders. We don’t live in a world where all our stakeholders have data science degrees, so in a lot of cases we are asking someone to take a leap of faith into the unknown when they start working with us. Good relationships are the foundation of trust!

Self-awareness is the key

Ultimately, the better you know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses, the easier it is to adopt habits and strategies to enhance your ability to be heard, regardless of gender. Our personality and behavioural styles form the basis upon which we can develop ourselves in order to be heard. There are plenty of tools out there to help us, for example the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) tool helps you to understand how you communicate, and how you can best adapt to suit different audiences and situations.

Research has shown that it is more effective to leverage strengths than to try to build on weaknesses – so we could all benefit from knowing where our biggest potential lies. Behaviour change methodologies teach us that we need three key things for lasting change; skills, opportunity, and motivation, and I will certainly be considering all of those in creating my own authentic communication style as I identify opportunities to speak and be heard wherever I can.

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