Are women ‘pressing their advantage’?

August 30, 2014

Female under-representation in business is hot on everyone’s lips right now. What language and methods do women use in the boardroom to conquer gender myths?
Can women use language to further their careers? 
We hosted a Board Breakfast event to find out…

On the 23rd September, in conjunction with Aston University, Harvey Nash co-hosted a unique event for local business leaders. 
Arriving early and sitting down to a laden boardroom table, we tucked in and chewed the fat. 
Harvey Nash Directors Natalie Whittlesey and Chris Seel welcomed the twenty CEOs, COOs, MDs and Senior Directors in attendance, including Judith Baxter, Professor of Applied Linguistics and Head of English Language in the School of Languages and Social Sciences at Aston University. 
Having published numerous books and articles as well as featuring on BBCs TV and Radio, Women at the Top, Women’s Hour, as well as press articles in The Guardian, The Observer and The Telegraph, Judith’s background is impressive. She has previously conducted a study, interviewing female Board members in seven multi-national organisations to research whether their ‘talk’ is hindering their progress. She has also studied the communication styles of men and women and asked the group: 

Can women really use language to further their careers? 
Huge research into the different communication styles between men and women has been carried out; direct versus indirect, assertive versus compliant, competitive versus cooperative and the ‘female advantage’. 
Judith’s work in this area has found that most successful leaders use both male and female communication styles, however, what’s interesting to note is that when women used male traits they are perceived as ‘push’ or ‘bossy’, whereas when men tap into a female communication style they are received positively, for example ‘he has a strong emotional quotient’. 
Another interesting point discussed was that ‘double voicing’ is used four times more by women than by their male counterparts. 
Double voicing is a ‘way of monitoring and adapting the way we speak to avoid criticism and to create the best possible effect.’ While self-awareness and linguistic mindfulness can bring positive results, overuse of double voicing can give the impression of weakness or a lack of confidence.
Carrying on from this discussion the group introduced Terry Hodgetts, Director of the Centre for Executive Development at Aston Business School. 
Terry has taken a keen interest in leadership and influence in an organisational context, and spoke passionately about ‘Leader-Follower Relationships’ and the ‘Bias Lens’. 
Both result in pre-conceived views preventing an impartial view of the behaviour of our team members. 
If a person viewed positively fails we are likely to decide that this is due to outside factors. If a person viewed negatively fails in the same way, we may decide that its down to them personally. An awareness of our biases can force us to consider things in a neutral, objective way. 
Even in interview situations biases come into play – ‘he went to my university’ for example – and suddenly the importance of competency or evidence based interviewing recedes somewhat. Terry encouraged business leaders in the group to understand their attribution process, use multiple-sources when gaining information and realise that others are using their ‘Bias Lens’ when viewing them too. 
The discussions and questions put to Judith and Terry were fascinating and full of passion and interest. The entire morning was exciting, vibrant, controversial and filled with all the questions we SHOULD be asking as business leaders. 
If you would like any more information about this this event or are interested in attending future Board Breakfasts, please get in touch with Zoe Townsend on 0121 717 1919 or email at
We’d like to thank Aston University for their fantastic subject contribution and support.