Leadership: Women Seen and Heard


This week we have Dr. Lois Phillips. She is a dynamic public speaker whose client’s say she practices what she teaches. Her academic background combines with executive experience in higher education to inform her training and coaching. Using principles gained from interviews and successful speakers and outlined in her best-selling book, Women Seen and Heard: Lessons Learned From Successful Speakers, Lois provides coaching and training to spokespersons, managers, and executives. Dr. Phillips has a special interest in advancing women’s careers, companies and board leadership. She has produced conferences on women’s leadership, produced and moderated two television programs about women’s changing roles, and co-moderated a program called Dialogs with George Eskin for a radio station.

She has years of conference presentations to compliment her academic research. In recent years she has taught Creating a Culture of Innovation and also Negotiation Skills for Professional Women at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: We are going to have a good time with our good friend, Dr. Lois Phillips. I love her book, Women Seen and Heard. I’m one of those women who is mostly heard, but I like to be seen every once-in-a-while. I have given that book to several women who I think can really benefit from it. I think we can all get better at what we do. It’s going to be an exciting show.

Dr. Lois Phillips: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very eager to have our conversation.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So Lois, let’s jump into this. We’ll start with our first question. You are interested in effective communication and women’s advancement to leadership. Given that communication is such a critical skill for leaders, what leaders demonstrate excellent communications skills from your point of view; maybe people that you have known or people that you work with?

Dr. Lois Phillips: I have thought about that because if you’d asked me this question 20 years ago I’d have to really think and drill down. But I think we really live in a wonderful time, particularly for young women who are looking for role models. I was thinking that of course, in my case, I believe Hillary Clinton is a wonderful speaker and I have heard her speak in person in a couple of large conference settings. I’m just amazed by her ability to recall information and think on her feet. She also demonstrates humor which doesn’t always come through in the media, that you see of her. I think she’s great and I’ve really watched her grow over many years.

When I was very young I was very inspired by people like Betty Friedan and of course Gloria Steinem who were very different in their physical presence but who were so articulate and I guess what you are hearing probably is a theme in my response to your question.

I’m very impressed by women who are articulate and who can talk about ideas not just about the concrete stuff of everyday life, which I think women excel at. I think women tend to be a little better at conversations talking about practical things and sharing stories and all of that stuff.

But then it was really very exciting in my growing up years to see women who could talk about big ideas and the future, and what policies we might be considering. That was very inspiring to me. I studied speech in college and rhetoric in particular.

People like Linda Ellerbee who began to look at the impact of media on children; I’ve heard her speak at conferences. Pat Schroeder a political person, Cokie Roberts, Ellen Goodman, the journalist, and Dr. Susan Love. These are people in fields of disparate health, media, politics and journalism.

I think in general what I am struck by is their ability to sound very conversational even though they may be talking about big ideas. So, I would always leave their presentations thinking about what they had to say. It seemed accessible; it wasn’t highfalutin jargon or technical stuff.

They really influenced me and even today when I coach people who are reticent or advanced in their positions and they have to develop their own style, I say, let’s start with the way you talk to people in a conversation.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: When people do talk to other people, have you had experiences where you notice that you can tell who is in a power position by how they are communicating with another person?

Dr. Lois Phillips: I don’t even know how to answer that briefly because there are all kinds of ways, from the obvious way; we’re taking it personally that the person stays behind the desk. You’ve studied non-verbal communication and the way in which people use space when they are at a conference table. They way in which they interrupt people, they way in which their voice is louder, and people don’t challenge that and allow them to be the dominate force in the room. There are ways besides the title on the door and the bigelow on the floor, as we say, conveys that I’m the boss, I control the money, I control people, I control the policy. I think there are ways in which people take up space when they communicate, they use gestures, they look at people or they ignore people.

I think these are all ways that are very nuanced, but people get it. They really react certainly in terms of your understanding of emotional intelligence. I know exactly what they mean. There’s the meta message about who has got the power and people understand that in a very intuitive way.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I think one of the things that I’m relatively excited to hear about in today’s conversation is a little bit about the state and federal policies that still outlaw discrimination but that are actually in some ways obstacles to women’s advancement.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Lois, before we go further, would you like to give us your contact information so that people can get a hold of you?

Dr. Lois Phillips: Yes, that would be wonderful. They can contact me directly through www.loisphillips.com. I’ve got blogs and all kinds of information on there.

Dr. Relly Nadler: One of the things that we wanted to ask you about—given some of the federal and state policies that outlaw discrimination—are there still obstacles today for women’s advancement, and if so, what are some of the challenges that you see and you face with women leaders?

Dr. Lois Phillips: Well, I think there are obstacles. We are very lucky in that as women today. Twenty-five years ago, which isn’t that long ago, you couldn’t teach if you were pregnant. You couldn’t be seen by your high school students once you began to show, so the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and then Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, housing restrictions, and Pay Equity Act. All of those kinds of things came out of the Women’s Movement. So let’s hear it for that. Every March we need to honor Women’s History Month because there were big changes that went beyond the psychodynamics of the individuals capacity to push for change.

I mention that because contextually the show’s really looking at emotional intelligence and the psychological capacity of individuals to be effective, whether it’s leaders or simply outstanding managers, or employees; to use their emotional intelligence as well as their IQ to advance themselves and their projects.

I think that the challenge; I know we are going to talk about this hot new book by Sheryl Sandberg called Lean In, but I think that the challenges today remain institutional obstacles in terms of ways in which women are passed for advancement opportunities. They are very subtle because in some cases they are just not even comprehended by the individual women who come in to the workplace with academic degrees equal to men and ready to hunker down and advance themselves. There are obstacles in terms that hit women in particular who have one child that affect their earning capacity, in fact, they earn 20% less than men do in the same jobs when they have one or more children. Some of that has to do with choices that they are making about training or travel, or assumptions being made about their interest in taking that great opportunity to shadow their boss at an international conference but they don’t have adequate childcare.

So childcare really looms large; at my age it is no longer an issue for me, but it certainly was when I was a young mom and a single parent, and I was working at the University and I had a sick child home with the flu. There are ways in which you are expected to show up, understandable of course, for your job. Some employers are more progressive than others, but it depends on your ability to negotiate with your supervisor; those sick days that are unexpected when a child gets sick or you have a crises at home, or you are part of the sandwich generation with an ailing, elderly parent, as well.

I think there are challenges that have to do with the flexibility of the employer and the workplace and access to affordable childcare that really inhibit women from seeking advancement and that’s part of our conversation—which of these obstacles are psychological and have to do with reticence to push ones career and which are real—such as the difficulty in finding affordable, quality, childcare, whether you are leader or manager or simply any old employee.

This is one of the issues on the table. The choice of a partner in life is an economic decision according to Sheryl Sandberg.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: When you think about the choices that women are making, Lois, I find it very interesting right now, I’m part of a new women’s leadership initiative called Half the Sky and we have a good population of up and coming women leaders in this particular program. The first graduating class will be in July. What they are learning are some real “aha!” moments about their style based on some assessments and some feedback, but they are also learning how to deal with these very nuanced, discriminatory issues that relate to the quality of their work versus the quantity of time they spend at work. They are also dealing with the idea of image; why is it appropriate for women to be attractive in the workplace as long as it does not distract from their credibility?

I’d love to hear some of your comments on that before we get into the Sheryl Sandberg book.

Dr. Lois Phillips: Well, I think one of the things that I’d like to say up front here, is that there is a double standard at work. So, a male can be attractive at work and it’s a positive. A woman can be attractive but she can’t be too attractive or she can’t be to unattractive, so I think it’s a very fine line that women have to walk in terms of being assertive but not too assertive, and not to passive. In Sandberg’s book she mentions that a couple of times that she just absolutely cried in front of her boss and she was very upset that she did, but there are times when things happen. When Hillary Clinton had possibly a tear in her eye sitting in a diner on her campaign trail, we don’t even know if it was real tear, her campaign imploded.

When John Boehner cried uncontrollably, the head of his party and this is covered by the press, it’s really downplayed and shown as a sign of what a human being he is. So I think there is a double standard. I think it makes it very tricky for women to figure out how do I want to present myself. It’s not a casual thing when you face your closet in the morning and you have to decide how do I want to present myself today. Then, if you are giving a presentation, in particular, it’s the geometry of personalities in front of you; do you want to be buttoned up, do you want to have a little bow tie, do you want to wear a skirt, high heels, or sneakers. It’s suddenly a complicated decision.

I do think what’s great about your program, and I’m certainly familiar the Half the Sky in general project and Christoff’s writing on that. It’s such a wonderful thing to have discussions because as you know, raising awareness is the first step to being thoughtful in choosing wisely and strategically about how you present yourself to other people.

I agree with you, I think it’s something young women are going to be smarter about because of the discussions you are facilitating.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well, and just to be clear so I don’t confuse the audience, this particular program Half the Sky Leadership is being led by a woman by the name of Grace Killelea, who is a former executive from ComCast who has invested in this program which she is promoting through Get Regional areas. I don’t want to take anything away from anybody. I want to make sure that those of you that don’t understand where it comes from, there is an old Chinese proverb that says, “Women Hold up Half the Sky.”

Listen to the complete interview with Dr. Lois Phillips, above.


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