It’s time to claim your space

take up space

Last week, we spoke to a fellow podcaster. He interviews a diverse array of entrepreneurs and technologists about their stories and has built up quite a following. As a data-driven decision-maker, he’s been analysing his stats and has noticed a concerning phenomenon.

Every time he interviews a woman, his engagement drops.

Unconscious bias runs deep

Yes, we also felt rage rising. However, in Powrsuit style, we decided to channel it productively. So, welcome to this week’s newsletter. Because here’s something we should be aware of: his audience isn’t just men. All of us show a preference for male voices, just like all of us show a preference for male candidates during a recruitment process.

Yes, there’s a vast array of factors driving this unconscious bias – this is complex stuff! But there’s a couple we face in all facets of our lives: how we perceive the physical presence of women. 

Is he hot or just tall?

If you’ve recently found yourself doom-scrolling, you may have also seen the viral ‘hot or tall‘ moment. For that particular 15 minutes, the straight women of the internet asked themselves if they were accidentally confusing tallness for attractiveness. Look, we don’t control memes… But beneath the ridiculousness, there is a kernel of truth.

When asked to describe the attributes of a leader, none of the traits listed back to us are ever physical. Research suggests that we’re lying to ourselves about the importance of looks; Fortune 500 CEOs can, in fact, often be categorised by appearance. The white men in this elite group tend to have chiselled jaws, salt-in-pepper hair and features that scream ‘masculinity’. Black men? They’re more likely to have baby faces. White women definitely do not have baby faces. Black women? Well, there weren’t any when this study was done (good news: there are two now!).

Admit it or not, how people look and sound has a big impact on how we perceive their abilities. And, when the rules change with gender and ethnicity, what do we do about it?

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Get big

We can’t change how we look, but we can change how we act. You can be authentically yourself while tweaking how you show up. And when we show up, we should signal competence and ability.

Your body language should say, ‘I deserve to be here.’

Taking up space says, ‘I deserve to be here,’ establishing you as a non-negotiable presence. Excuse us for sounding like a nineteenth-century etiquette school, but it is important to stand tall, sit straight, and maintain eye contact. So practice it, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. Try simple actions like standing up to make your point, a firm handshake, or a confident introduction.

Actions for allies: Men tend to be physically bigger. By sitting down, calling on women to speak, and limiting interruptions, you can send the message that you’re not exploiting that advantage. 

Maintain your position

It’s not your job to duck and dive apologetically out of the way of oncoming men; you have just as much right to that space. There’s no scientific basis to the concept of Manslamming, but if you’re anything like us, you always lose the game of footpath/office/airport lounge chicken. When we’re always first to give way, we reinforce the belief that it’s our job to do so. Wind up in a collision? You can let them say ‘sorry’ first. 😉

Actions for allies: Women are almost always acutely aware of our surroundings. It’s exhausting but necessary. Take on some of the load by paying attention to the people and environment around you. Move out of the paths of others, leave a shared armrest empty, and keep manspreading to the boundaries of your own chair.

No disclaimers

Yes, women’s voices get unconsciously judged, and that’s on the world to change, not us. But, we really shouldn’t apologise for speaking either. So, cut the disclaimers. Remove the ‘stupid questions’, ‘I’m not sure’, ‘I’m not expert buts…’ and other filler words from your vernacular. Own your opinions, and own your space.

Actions for allies: If you wouldn’t comment on a man’s appearance, don’t comment on a woman’s. It’s not that we don’t love a compliment; we just prefer feedback to be focused on our capabilities. 

Don’t give in to beige

To borrow from a recent book of the week: “Never succumb to beige“. Don’t use fashion to fade into the background; wear colour! At Powrsuit, we love a bold earring almost as much as we love sending ourselves the subliminal message that we deserve to be seen.

Action for allies: Listen to different voices. Turn up to diversity discussions, call on women to join the conversation or panel, or get a Powrsuit Allies membership.

30 second action

Make the unconscious conscious with a fun experiment. During a larger meeting this week, use this simple tool to track the split of male to non-male voices.

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