Giving a Presentation Can Set You Free From Gender Bias

We’ve all heard the expression ’damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. This sums up the double bind facing many women working in traditionally male fields. It stems from gender biases that are strong elements of the hiring, promoting and working environment of all women, but most difficult for women where promotion, access, and encouragement are controlled and dispensed by men.

Here’s how the double bind works: a soft-spoken woman is seen as nice, but not competent; a strong woman is seen as capable, but angry and threatening. How do women get heard, accepted and engage without a middle ground or acceptable demeanor available to them?

Tips Abound to Work Against Gender Bias

While this bias is generally recognized and supported in scientific studies, answers on how to combat it are few and rather simplistic. There are tips for working against this bias. For example, don’t end your statements with an upper inflection of your voice that turns your statement into a weak question or uncertainty. Don’t shrug when recounting your achievements: they are achievements and nothing to dismiss. There are other tips, too, including how you should dress, shake hands, walk, even smile.

But what do you do about the big stuff; the pervasive belief that you are not as good as your colleagues no matter how outstanding your performance. It’s doubly bad when this attitude is shared by many of your male colleagues and is staring you in the face when you stand up to speak or present.

Can Science Help?

This lack of self-confidence is a brutally deep and emotionally destroying hole to escape. But it is possible to escape. A scientifically-proven approach is that women can build confidence by taking risks. Once again many women work to avoid taking any risk. Instead of “climbing back on the horse”, we tend over-think and criticize every failure or perceived failure. Another suggested approach suggested by science to help with confidence building is to move on from a mistake and quickly tackle the next task.

A third potential solution, and one that resonates with me as a presentation designer, developer, and coach, is to seek out opportunities to get outside your comfort zone and give a presentation. For most people, standing in front of an audience is terrifying – some say as frightening as the prospect of death. Anything that frightening certainly sounds like a candidate for a risky confidence builder. Consider yourself lucky. You have a chance to build your confidence and thus your future.

Developing the presentation that will address the double bind is not easy, but entirely doable. Of course, I’d like to help. Stay tuned for more ideas on approaches and solutions.