By Debora McLaughlin

Defined as an individual’s capacity to function, interact, and manage effectively in diverse settings and backgrounds, cultural intelligence is about understanding that a person’s cultural identity has a great influence on how he or she thinks, makes, decisions, behaves, defines situations, and determines success. Failure to recognize cultural disparities and their importance can block collaboration on shared goals, hinder accountability, and leave employees feeling misunderstood or unsupported, all of which creates roadblocks and potholes on your road to success.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, she encourages women to be more ambitious and to lean into their careers. Having worked with hundreds of women and now interviewing women executives for my book, women often comment that while they are driven to succeed in their careers, they often feel unheard and invalidated, feeling as one stated, “like the little girl at the big girls table.” Others said they felt “shushed” when offering their opinion.

Leaders are responsible to learn skills to increase our level of cultural competence, however gender differences in communication is not frequently a chapter in the corporate training manual.
Language builds the bridge from where you are to where you want to be, personally and professionally. Women do attempt to lean in, however their communication often isn’t heard by their male counterparts. With only 4 percent serving as CEOs in Fortune 100 companies and less in corporate offices, women rely on career advancement through male leaders. In addition, studies show that women in business often hit the green ceiling, failing to get investment funds as they are viewed as less competent compared to male investors. Are they really less competent or was their vision and strategic plan unheard?

While there are many factors, one key difference stands out.

Women frame conversations, building the border around the picture, adding descriptions, and portraying the characters involved and details of insight. Women communicate through dialogue, discussing emotions, choices, and problems. The communication center inside a woman’s brain is much larger than a man’s brain, giving them access to greater processing and mastery of language. Perhaps this is why we talk so much!

Men just want to see the picture. Males remain action-oriented—the goal of communication is to achieve something. Therein lies the risk for women, talking too much gets the “shhh,” leaving a woman’s message unheard. This teaches women the behavior to be quiet at the table, reverting to the “seen and not heard” of generations past.

As leaders, learn about the communication gap, how to bridge it, and allow women to be heard, seen, and respected.

Debora McLaughlin is author of The Renegade Leader and the forthcoming book Running in High Heels, to be published in summer 2013. She works with leaders to be seen, heard, and noticed and to lead with influence and impact.