Published on October 1, 2020, at 8:15 p.m.
by Grace Evans
“The question is, if you don’t believe what you’re saying is important, then who will?” said Duyen Truong, vice president of public relations for Sage Communications.
According to Truong, women need to “speak with conviction and own their ideas” to not only be heard in the workplace, but also to empower themselves.
There’s a reason why many women only apply for jobs when they meet 100% of the criteria. This isn’t a new statistic, so why do women continue to doubt themselves? Women already face multiple barriers, including the issue of gender parity. For every 100 men hired and promoted to manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. And even though women make up 60% to 80% of the U.S. public relations industry, only one in five hold senior positions.
However, women face another obstruction to their own achievements: themselves. Subconsciously, women insert phrases like “I may be biased,” “just following up” or “Does that make sense?” in their everyday speech and writing. Women “just” want to make sure that their point comes across respectfully, but to a fault. These qualifiers only serve to undermine their messages, and, unfortunately, they are the culpable party.
“I also think that I’m quick to apologize … sorry for this or sorry for the misunderstanding or the confusion, and these are really things that I don’t have apologize for and I shouldn’t be apologizing for,” said Gabrielle Jasinski, vice president of Bospar.
Studies show that when men employ these same speech habits, it doesn’t have any bearing on how they are perceived. Even in the female-dominated world of public relations, women have to actively focus on how their words and actions are absorbed, usually for no other reason than society’s inherent gender inequalities.
The tendency for women to undermine themselves extends past speech to their actions and behaviors. This impulse may stem from being labeled as “aggressive” when standing up for their ideas. Or, after expressing passion and enthusiasm during a meeting, being branded as “bossy” and “emotional.”
Jasinski has learned the importance of directness and how to balance supporting her co-workers’ ideas while also bringing her own to the table. “I would say that being aggressive in PR is not necessarily a bad thing. I tend to be really direct with my thoughts and my feedback so my voice is always heard, and sometimes that comes across as aggressive, but I really just want to be heard and so I think the directness is what really matters,” she said.
Even in an industry where communication drives all production, the fear of expressing too loud of a voice can lead to women never expressing their views. In a time where diversity of opinion is crucial to the success of any organization, every woman must understand that they are in the room for a reason.
“I’ve observed people undermine themselves … they shrink back, they become passive and they don’t firmly hold their ground in a tough discussion. So, in short, they don’t fully show up. … They’re not advocating for themselves. They don’t ask the hard questions in front of groups. If you don’t show up, then you’re not in the game,” said Truong.
According to the Harvard Business Review, this behavior can also be attributed to girls being rewarded in school at an early age for following the rules. These polite practices earn them A’s on their report cards, but after entering the workplace, “that rule-following habit has real costs.”
So, how do women break these patterns? How do they make changes now that will positively impact their careers in the future? Both Jasinski and Truong believe change starts with women putting themselves in challenging situations outside of their comfort zones.
“You have to make yourself stand out. You have to show your intention to grow and learn and be memorable,” said Truong. “Try to make an impression, try to connect personally with people you know within the agency, and make sure that you seize opportunities that force you to get out of your comfort zone.”
“Advocate for yourself. You will never get that promotion unless you tell someone that you want it, so tell your boss you want the promotion, tell your manager you want it and then work with them to make it happen. You really need to push yourself to get there,” said Jasinski.
Recognizing the many ways women undermine themselves is the first step to long-term success. The sooner women learn how to communicate confidently, the sooner they can get to work. And nothing should stand in the way of women changing the public relations industry.