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Be direct. Ask for what you want. Don’t use soft language. As a woman, I’ve heard this advice over and over, but I still have a hard time following it.
I’m Katrina Bolak, product marketing manager at The Globe and Mail. I’ve been thinking a lot about the language I use when I communicate, especially at work, something my colleague Lanna Crucefix explored in a past edition of Amplify. “I’ve found that Canadian women tend to use more team-based, upbeat and inquisitive phrases, rather than declarative language,” she writes. “Think: ‘Would you mind completing the report by 5 p.m.?’ as opposed to ‘Get me the report by 5 p.m.’"
I’ve been consciously working to remove the “justs,” “maybes,” and “if you have a moments” from my professional requests. In the process, I’ve started paying closer attention to how other women at my workplace speak. That’s when I noticed something else: Women don’t celebrate our wins as much as we should.
I have a tendency to downplay my own accomplishments. And, I see it in my female friends and colleagues, too. An article in the Harvard Business Review helps explain why: “When women try to make themselves more visible, they can face backlash for violating expectations about how women should behave, and risk losing their hard-won career gains,” write the authors. It’s a story as old as time: Women don’t want to be judged or disliked for stepping out of what’s perceived as gender normative behaviour. So we minimize, deflect and present accomplishments as a team effort.
But, what if it’s also because of the way we think of “successful” women? Remember when Sheryl Sandberg published Lean In? At first it seemed like a tome for women in the workplace to rally around, but then came the backlash: Sandberg is a millionaire. We can’t take advice from her, she’s not relatable. I’m not suggesting Sandberg’s multimillion salary is the norm, but a successful woman isn’t relatable? Really? Peggy Drexler echoes my reaction in this insightful Forbes article, writing: “Why is it that when we talk about a woman with success, we talk about whether or not she’s someone to whom other women can relate? And why can’t ‘successful’ be ‘relatable,’ anyway? Is being accessible and approachable something that only applies to those who are still working toward their accomplishments – or, worse, are shamed into not talking about them?”
Speaking of successful women, I loved this New York Times profile of Nancy Pelosi, who just reclaimed her title as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Even women as formidable as Pelosi have struggled with the same old gender issues as the rest of us. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes, “Ms. Pelosi has long governed with a touch of gender-consciousness. When she became speaker the first time, she surrounded herself with her grandchildren and the children of other lawmakers on the podium inside the House chamber. A woman was in charge.” But, Stolberg continues, “This time Ms. Pelosi seems to be casting off maternal imagery.” As a woman going head to head with President Donald Trump, today’s Pelosi is “unapologetic about her ambition,” Amanda Litman, a founder of Run for Something, which recruits and supports young liberal candidates in the U.S., told Stolberg. I hope Pelosi’s unbridled ambition is something we can all strive to achieve.
Globe columnist Denise Balkissoon offers some great pointers on how to get there (for both men and women, for the record) in this piece. She describes how pro-athletes say positive statements out loud during big games as a tactic to build confidence. I could see this being effective during preparation for a big presentation, for example. And, hey, if it worked for Mohammed Ali (“That guy was the greatest at positive self-talk,” writes Balkissoon), it’s certainly worth trying. She ends her column with: “Be kind to yourself. It feels good.” That’s a mantra we should all take through 2019. I know I will.
And when in doubt, this short poem by writer Rupi Kaur, will help nudge me along.
What else we’re reading
You can’t “read” it - but I highly recommend listening to this episode of the Rise podcast by Rachel Hollis. It’s an excerpt from a talk she gave to entrepreneurs about one of their “greatest enemies”: caring too much about other people’s opinions.
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