“I’m sorry,” I begin instinctively to my manager, but then stop myself. I had swung by to provide some context to the epidemiology data I collected, and I was not quite sure why I started with an apology.
Just days ago I attended an office-wide discussion hosted by the Women’s Network in which we chatted about the implications and motivations behind gendered communication habits—specifically around how women apologize. There was an argument that women are more likely to soften language as a strategic communication approach to get their ideas across while others argued that women undermine themselves by apologizing unnecessarily. As a former student at the University of Chicago where I thrived on these kinds of difficult discussions, I was awed by the honesty and insights my colleagues brought to the table. The professional setting did not stop them from asking hard questions about gender and social norms.
These office-wide discussions are only one of the many initiatives of Women’s Network at L.E.K. Once every few weeks I grab coffee and an obscene amount of baked goods with my mentor group, which is made up of a handful of female associates and consultants paired with both one male manager and one female manager. In my opinion, the goal of these groups is two-fold. One, it gives female associates and consultants a chance to voice our concerns in a safe and supportive environment. Two, it allows male managers to better understand issues women face in the workplace. We talk about anything from work-life balance to the best way to maximize our snack budget. The conversations are honest and constructive and each time, I walk away with a personal goal. Most recently, my goal has been to speak up five seconds faster in team meetings instead of hesitating—an idea I borrowed from a female colleague.
In my application to the Women’s Network Leadership Committee, I highlighted how excited I was to be a part of an action-oriented, forward-thinking team of peers and role-models. What impresses me the most about L.E.K. is the support and resources available to everyone in the firm. Whether it’s through formalized Women’s Network events or informal coffee chats with a manager, there is an avenue for every conversation. And that’s exactly it; these are conversations and not a set of instructions.
At the Women’s Network office-wide discussion, we did not come to a conclusion about communication norms (I’d be more worried if we did), but instead raised awareness about communication styles and the sometimes unintentional consequences of them. To me this simply means that communication styles are unique for everyone. There may be a place for softened language for one individual that may not work for someone else. I’m definitely still figuring out how to optimize my own approach, but I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who are here to help me. In the meantime, I return to the moment and focus on the more pressing issue of explaining where this data came from.