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The power of female voices in the workplace – a guest blog post by Karen Schmidt

The Times published an article a while back that proves the Prince of Wales was right all along. Plants really do like it if you talk to them.  What he did not know is that they prefer to hear a woman’s voice. These are the conclusions of a month long study by the Royal Horticultural Society into the effect of the human voice on tomato plants. More than two decades after the Prince exposed himself to ridicule for saying it was “very important” to talk to plants and that “they respond”, horticulturalists believe his hunch was correct.  The guys at Mythbusters also agree. When they looked into this urban myth in 2004 the verdict was “plausible”. So how does this research help us in the workplace? Well, you can draw some parallels with female leadership styles. We have been talking for a while now about the feminisation of leadership and not just from the point of view of having more women as leaders but also of male leaders adopting a more humanistic approach. We are starting to see more of that but we still have a long way to go. I know in my business I am often called upon to facilitate potentially volatile meetings because my clients realise that putting a woman in charge can neutralise some of the animosity in a group, especially when large numbers of men are involved.

However, here is an interesting point to note. Whilst we may be hearing more female voices in senior leadership roles, there is a concern that their style and content is often very masculine. It seems that many women who have made it to the top feel they need to adopt male characteristics to be accepted. So are we really hearing women’s “real” voices or are we missing out on their unique characteristics due to the heavy male influence in the boardroom?

With the Australian Federal election result still pending as this post is being written, it is interesting to ponder how Julia Gillard has handled this dilemma. Her highly stage managed debate with Tony Abbott to many people demonstrated she was losing her real voice in favour of a carefully crafted replacement. Then the turnaround came when she declared that she would come out from behind the shackles of her media advisors and reveal her real self. Only time will tell if this strategy (which some people claim was a deliberate move) will work for or against her.

If Julia Gillard and other women in positions of influence find it difficult to harness the power of their voice then how is it for women at other levels of the organisation? Would you say that women have a true voice in your organisation, occupation or industry? What can you personally do to make sure that women’s voices are heard in the Australian workplace?

About the Author | Karen Schmidt from Let’s Grow! describes herself as a workplace gardener who is on a mission to grow managers into engaging leaders.www.letsgrow.com.au

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