Women in leadership roles – with inherent power and authority based on their position – struggle with the silencing phenomenon much more than realized. There are at least three reasons why.
- It is not uncommon for a corporate culture to favor a male-dominant discourse. When a female uses a genderlect style of communication (often focused on building rapport and connection) and is met with communication norms that favor status and independence – this can become a silencer.
- As women navigate corporate cultures or systems of silencing that are primarily faceless and find some measure of success, they can inadvertently become a silencer of other women who are in the midst of their own navigation. When women silence other women, this can become an acutely painful experience – perhaps even less spoken.
- We assume that only those with formal power silence others and this is not true. Peers can be just as demanding on each other, if not more so, then the next level up. Our tendencies to judge and create ingroups versus outgroups live beyond those high school years. This dynamic in a workplace can be a substantial silencer for women in leadership as they wrestle with acceptance and success in their roles. It is also true that stakeholders, direct reports, customers, and community groups that come together and create a source of informal power can become silencers to women especially when those groups hold a majority opinion that may not be shared by a female leader.
- Acknowledge and advocate for the women in your immediate professional circles. Ask them their opinions, solicit their thinking, and do not assume their silence is because they have nothing to say.
- If you learn a female colleague has been silenced – ask her to share what happened. As women open up about the experience of feeling silenced, it begins to normalize an experience that for many can feel shameful. Shame can lose its fangs when words are spoken.
- Last, stand with us. As a woman, it can be hard working with other females. We can be exceptionally hard on ourselves and our gender. You have the opportunity to help us see different perspectives with ourselves and others. We also need to regularly experience men as respectful role models, mentors, advocates, professional colleagues, and friends.
What has been your experience with silencing?