Condoleezza Rice leading the troops at the NATO army base
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of speaking for the Swedish Women in Arbitration Network (SWAN). The topic was not only public speaking but also how to communicate as a woman in a male dominated environment.
Before the lecture we mingled with a glass of wine and some snacks. And there I stood. The only man amongst approximately 20 women. As I started to feel and acknowledge the awkwardness of that situation I also realized that that was exactly the position many of these women frequently found themselves in. Being the odd one out always has an effect on you. You become more aware of your posture, your clothes, and your communication style. But as a man I had never been in this position before. The position of being the odd one out on the basis of gender. An interesting experience!
We started the lecture with some general background information on public speaking and strategic communication. We saw good examples of how Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice managed to walk the line. That sensitive line between adaptation to the male environment and remaining feminine and true to their styles. The famous parliamentary intervention speech of Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard in which she washes the ears of the opposition leader was used to illustrate the effective use of honest emotion. And as a last example we analyzed Thatcher’s ”Last stand against socialsme” to show another strong rhetorical rolemodel.
The following discussion brought up interesting elements that – as a male speaker – I had not considered before. For instance how some of the participants consciously tried to avoid an inclusive style and personal disclosure because they did not want to confirm a female sterotype. The participants shared practical experiences from their legal practices on how they dealt with the male environement and how they adapted their clothes, speech and examples. Some of them came to the conclusion that perhaps they adapted too much.
In the end we found common ground over the fact that audience adaptation is always good, but that this can not go at the expense of your core identity. For men and women the basic rule applies that your communication is much stronger and much more believable if it is delivered with authenticity. Adapt but stay true to your own style. So, if you have a feminine style do not be afraid to use it. Because as some of the participants noticed, women might actually have an advantage over men because they have a wider range of styles to choose from.
With that awareness I believe the lecture was a great success and it has given me much to reflect on in the coming period. I wish all the participants and the SWAN network all the best and I hope our paths will cross again.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (US) Julia Gillard (AUS) Margaret Thatcher (UK)