I was sitting in class one day, reviewing for a test and no one in my class knew the answer to the question my professor asked. I knew it, but I sat there silently for a few minutes before mumbling, “I think…”
Afterwards, I thought about how I seemed so unsure when I actually knew I was right. Just a few days later, one of my friends mentioned how she needs to start speaking more confidently. I explained how I often say, “I think,” even when I’m certain about something. I went on to say, “I think it’s because…” My friend pointed out how I used “I think” yet again.
Though the way women often feel uncomfortable or hesitant when speaking in a professional setting says something about society’s attitudes toward women, the way we constantly critique the way women speak also says something about the standards we hold women to.
Societal attitudes and expectations can make women speak with less conviction, but can also pressure women to think excessively about the way they speak.
I often see articles about how the way women speak could make them look bad in the workplace. From vocal fry to upspeak to the overuse of words like “just,” women are constantly told how to behave to be accepted at work. Though speaking professionally is a good skill, why are these articles always targeted toward women? I’ve never seen headlines shared all over my social media feeds that say, “men, the way you speak is making you look bad at work,” “men, how the sound of your voice might stop you from getting a job” or “men, cut ‘um’ out of your vocabulary if you want to be taken seriously.”
Professional speaking is a valuable skill that people should work to improve, so why is it only women who could never possibly be taken seriously because of the way they talk?
If people don’t take you as seriously as your male counterparts at work, it’s probably not because of the way you talk — it’s probably because you’re a woman, and even today, that can make people view you as inherently less professional.
Vocal fry and upspeak seem like excuses. They attempt to justify why we don’t view women as professionals or leaders. They make women feel as though they’re not good enough, as though they don’t belong in the workplace. But there is no excuse. Sure, we should speak with confidence and try to improve our speaking skills. Consider this, though: does every man that we view as professional and put together speak perfectly, never using filler words, never mumbling, never speaking in a way that isn’t “professional?” Do men never utter the words “just” or “I think”?
Everyone can work to speak better. But women shouldn’t have to alter the way they speak, cut words out of their vocabularies, delete every “just” from their emails and take all of these extra steps just to be viewed as equal to a man. Women should be taken seriously without jumping through a bunch of extra hoops to get there. I don’t simply think that — I know that.