How You Talk May Affect How Successful You Are

Have you ever found yourself giving a presentation using a voice that's about three octaves higher than your normal speaking range, but somehow you're unable to stop it? No judgement — it happens to a lot of us, especially when we're nervous. But as it turns out, that's not just something for your workplace bestie to make fun of you for later — feminine voices are perceived as less competent in the workplace, according to some studies. And, as NPR reports, some women are setting out to change their voices in order to be taken more seriously as a result.There's a disturbingly large amount of research showing that feminine traits are devalued in the workplace. While this is hardly breaking news, it still impacts the daily lives of women everywhere. For instance, one study found that conventionally attractive women who acknowledge and then apologize for their beauty are more likely to be offered traditionally masculine jobs than those who don't. Several studies every year routinely find that gender bias is "extraordinarily" prevalent in STEM fields, and that somehow only a pitiful 14 percent of physics faculty in the United States are women. Believe it or not, that's actually considered progress. When it comes to voices, research indicates that both men and women prefer people with masculine voices in leadership roles. There's also a trend in advertising to avoid using female voiceovers in commercials (a whopping 80 percent of commercials are voiced by men), because male voices are perceived as more authoritative.

So basically, if you have a feminine voice, you're less likely to be taken seriously than your male colleagues. But feminine voices are characterized by more than just high pitch. In an interview with NPR, vocal coach Annette Masson pointed out that women tend to be less monotone than men, with more variations in pitch and musicality. We also display more uptalk, ending our sentences on a higher note so that they sound like a question. Working with a vocal coach like Masson can help change these habits, making the speaker seem more direct and confident. Awesome stuff, right?

Thanks, Walter. However, I have to ask: is it really necessary to change the way you speak just to be taken more seriously at work? Don't get me wrong — working to become more comfortable with public speaking is important and empowering in its own way, and feeling confident at work is likely going to contribute to your overall success. But working with a coach specifically to erase your female vocal patterns seems problematic to me. The voice is a pretty fundamental part of most people's identities, and with all the pressure on women to act, look, and think a certain way, this seems like yet another facet of women's lives that society has found a way to control. Masculine traits may get you ahead, but you shouldn't have to completely distance yourself from your female identity in order to do so. I would feel strange changing such a personal part of myself for my career, but I can also understand the frustration that comes with not being taken seriously.

Really, I guess, it's up to the individual to decide. Whether you choose to consciously change your speech patterns or not, it's still good information to have — I know next time I have to do public speaking, I'm going to try to stick to my normal octave.

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