Loud ladies: the necessity of the female voice

By Opinions Editor

In the media and in real life, men constantly bemoan it. It tortures their psyche and keeps them up at night, preventing them from properly functioning among their fellow men. What is this cruel thing that haunts the male species?

Women talking.

How much are women really talking, though, and are they speaking when it really matters? According to a 2011 Johnson Cornell University study titled “Who Takes the Floor and Why: Gender, Power and Volubility in Organizations,” the majority of women involved in the study believe that verbal advocacy in the workplace is not “a successful way to communicate their power to others.”

The study produced some frightening data when it examined gender and power dynamics on the floor of the U.S. Senate and whether volubility increases women’s power as it does with men.

The study revealed that women not only experience more backlash and punitive action when they get vocal in the workplace, but also that women fear such repercussions. This results in women talking substantially less than their male counterparts.

Of course, the old adages “silent but deadly” and “speak softly and carry a big stick” could be applied here. Perhaps women are altering power dynamics in more subtle ways by showing up and making things happen. However, conceding to men blabbing away at work so as to avoid being viewed as just another talkative, powerless female serves no one, especially not the women who choose to remain silent.

This is not a plea for women to disrupt or revolt. It is a plea for millennial women to understand that although our mothers and grandmothers grew up being told, “Young women should be seen, not heard,” this is no longer the case. Whether in a network television writers’ room or a Fortune 500 boardroom, women entering the workplace should recognize and work to address the disparities that still exist between the sexes because they are taking a toll.

One need only look around to understand the staggering lack of representation women have to overcome—it’s everywhere. According to the Women’s Media Center’s 2013 “Status of Women in the U.S. Media” report, equality will not exist in business, government and beyond until 2085. When women make up more than 50 percent of the world’s population, our employment statistics should read the same. Until the gender gap closes, there will not be enough women in positions of power for us to afford silence and complicity.

According to The Center for Women and Politics, the number of women with the power to make laws dropped to 24 percent after the 2014 elections, though the numbers were never very high to begin with—24 percent is minuscule. If women are not speaking up for fear of backlash in a place where female representation is critical, who will speak for us? The men—and that’s going so well, isn’t it?

Not all women want to represent their gender, though, and that is fair. They did not sign up for the task of trailblazing their way through the office. They signed up to do their job. Nonetheless, if a woman truly wants to excel in her chosen field, would she not want to be as voluble and involved as the man next to her? 

The system is bent against females, though. Women who once walked into meetings guns blazing may have been smacked down one too many times by their male superiors. It is one thing to have opportunity, but it is another thing to have access within those opportunities. Men in leadership positions far outnumber women, making it more difficult to make headway in both volubility and visibility. Thus, businesses should also take it upon themselves to examine their hierarchies in order to determine if the systems in place are working for or against their female employees. Women should never have to fear reprisal for deviating from antiquated gender norms, particularly in their place of work.

For women with access to opportunities that can influence change, making the decision to pipe down is a detriment to the advancement of our gender and the causes we support. The politics of a workplace, even a classroom, are difficult to navigate. Tact is always needed, but when men are consistently in positions of power, women should take any opportunity they may have to make strides. It is not enough to represent the minority. We have to advocate for ourselves and for those who are unable to advocate for themselves.