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Lisa Åkesson

RADA in Business

Business Tutor

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Women, are you ready to climb on board? pt2

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RADA in Business tutor Lisa Åkesson concludes her interview with Gillian Karran-Cumberlege, founding partner of boutique executive search company Fidelio.

The next step is voice. Effective female leaders have voices that are heard with authenticity, authority and gravitas. They need to bring themselves to the table but know how to connect this to their personal and vocal power.

How often do we give our power away by speaking quietly, mumbling, or falling into a light, breathy or high-pitched voice? This severely reduces a woman’s credibility and will hold you back from being seen as a confident leader able to take your seat at board level. Some of the typical pitfalls are allowing the voice to move towards an upward inflection at the end of a line when making a point or a clear statement. This will turn a statement into a question, undermining your authority or displaying uncertainty and a lack of confidence. In order to be heard, have influence and make a positive impact on others, the use of varied pace, range and effective pause will enable you to gain the credibility and the attention of the room. For maximum impact, voice and tone must be congruent with the message. This is where your power lies and it’s important to recognise that these skills can be learnt, and need to be practised.

As superficial as it might seem, how you dress can also be an important starting point. Even before you speak, your physical impact is making an impression and says a multitude about you as a person – your approachability, self-esteem, confidence, power, beliefs, level of intelligence, competence and successes. It also says a great deal about the organisation you represent or hope to represent - its philosophy, culture, and standard of service. Your appearance is not just a reflection of you, but the company as well and whilst you want to bring your personality into it, there has to be an awareness of how your professionalism plays a part in how others perceive and relate to you. The advice has often been to dress for the role you want to step into and do so with confidence. This confidence will inevitably affect your body language and your behaviour.

In addition to our communication choices as women, what of the attitudes many face as they strive to move into these senior positions? McKinsey’s conducted research across the boards of professional services firms and found that men are three times more likely to become a partner in an accountancy firm, and 10 times more likely in a law firm. Indeed, Gillian referred to the widely recognised challenge of unconscious bias in both business and recruitment. Although acquiring and developing a new set of communication skills will not make this problem disappear overnight, they will help you to take advantage of every opportunity, and make sure that you are performing at the absolute best you can be, as you strive to break through the lingering attitudes which may stand in your way.

Gillian also sees unwillingness in some women to take centre stage and be heard. Women have to stop hiding behind their desks, waiting to be rewarded for their hard work and instead have greater belief in themselves and claim acknowledgment and recognition for what they bring to the table. A discernible difference between the attitudes and mindset of men and women, is that men are often less afraid to ask for things. And this is no more evident than when it comes to discussing pay and finance.

On reflection, Gillian’s key advice to women who want to step into board level roles is not to be afraid to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. Women can be tempted to fall into the role of trusted advisor, and whilst that can be strategic at times, it can result in constantly helping others to succeed while neglecting to develop and promote oneself. She also noted that the trusted advisor role has a considerable amount in common with the non-executive director. Exerting confidence and believing you truly belong in the position as much as any male peer will drive you to take risks, proffer your opinion and counter dissension and own your position with equal value. Women need to assert their right to ask for things, whether it is a pay rise, promotion or simply an audience. Raising awareness of self-limiting beliefs is a great starting point to bringing about meaningful change in behaviours.

The role of women at board level is a current important diversity debate – one where governments, networks and businesses are looking to raise awareness, pledge support, make a difference and effect change. The question is, is it moving along as quickly as we hope? Gillian thinks not, and that more work is needed to support women through the change in attitude and when choosing to pursue these roles. Perhaps the answer lies here; as more women like Gillian take the places they deserve in the top ranks of industry, strongly championing and encouraging women to step into board positions and embracing their position as a role model.

So where do you start? If you know you have the qualifications, ambition and skills to reach the top, the next step is to ensure that you are projecting these abilities as effectively as you can. Developing your physical and vocal impact will give you the confidence and presence you need to take this next step. Now that you have mastered the ‘what’ it is time to look at the ‘how’. 

Read part one here

Lisa Åkesson is a business tutor for RADA in Business

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Lisa Åkesson

Business Tutor

Read more from Lisa Åkesson
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