30 September 2011

Are Labour's leading women better speakers than Labour's leading men?

I know that some of my Twitter friends, like @MarionChapsal of Geronimo Coaching, have an interest in collecting examples of powerful women speakers and leaders.

Having kept an eye out on both male and female speakers at this week's Labour Party conference, I thought that they and other readers might like to see three good efforts from women who spoke there.

For what it's worth, my general impression is that some of the party's leading women are way ahead of their male brethren when it comes to effective public speaking.

Is this, I wonder, because oratory is a dying art among males in a party that has seen former trades unionists, trained at the factory gates, give way to a new class of of Oxbridge educated young men trained as backroom boys for older MPs (and with little or no experience of having done anything much outside professional politics)?

Or is it simply that, even in a party so lacking in charismatic male speakers, women still have to be far better than average to get noticed and rise within the party?

YVETTE COOPER, Shadow Home Secretary:

CAROLINE FLINT, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

HARRIET HARMAN, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party:

On reflection, and at the risk of offending Msses (if that's the plural of 'Ms') Cooper, Flint and Harman, it occurs to me that they arguably all have something in common with Margaret Thatcher when it comes to solving the problem of becoming a 'charismatic woman' (see HERE). That particular post concluded as follows:

'... one of Mrs Thatcher's major long term achievements may turn out to have been the undermining of age-old assumptions of the sort contained in Quintillian's observation that the perfect orator cannot exist ‘unless as a good man'. And, by finding a workable solution to the problem of being damned for being like a man and damned for not being like a man, her combination of uncompromising femininity with equally uncompromising words and deeds may have laid the foundations for a new tradition within which women politicians of the future will be able to operate' (derived from Our Masters' Voices, 1984, pp.111-121).

Conference season 2011 blogging update:


Marion Chapsal said...

Thank you Max for high-lighting 3 powerful women speakers.
Every opportunity to promote women's voices should be applauded, especially when it comes from a man.

Three thoughts to share with you:

First, I don't know whether Labour's leading women are better speakers than Labour's leading men, but I would agree with your statement that
"women still have to be far better than average to get noticed and rise within the party." Women get scrutinised and expected to be "perfect". Not only Women are not given the right to fail, but they are also set up to fail from the glass cliff. Read Sylvia Ann Hewlett 's article in Harvard Business Review http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/hewlett/2008/08/are_women_leaders_often_set_up.html

Secondly, Quintillian's quote is still very impregnated in our DNA.
"The perfect orator cannot exist unless as a good man"!!!
Women speakers and leaders are walking a fine line, which is at the edge of a glass cliff!
No wonder you don't find as many volunteers to be exposed to public judgment.
That's what I call "the Goldilocks effect".I have written about it there http://geronimocoachingnow.com/?p=3614
Women have to find their voice, not too soft and feminine, but too aggressive, assertive and masculine either. The key is to know how to monitor oneself and use the right tone appropriately.

Thirdly, noticing the comments from men after my Goldilocks post, I believe both men and women could benefit from learning from each other's communication styles.Men also struggle with finding the right balance between masculine and feminine traits.They often lack empathy, humility and the genuine consideration for others. Key elements to engage with your audience. So Labour's leading men should read your blog, Max and understand what makes women better speakers and eventually of course, leaders.

Janice Tomich said...

Max and Marion - Here is another powerful woman speaker for your data bank. Our Premier of British Columbia, Christie Clark, comes from a media background and has strong oratory skills. She is skilled at connecting with her audience, which in part comes from her approachable demeanour.
In polling the audience (my random attempt) after she spoke, the women and younger men complimented her speaking style however older males found her disingenuous. The older traditionalist's (generalizing here) comments ranged from she smiles too much to her manner being effusive.