Helen Gottstein
Corporate public speaking skills for people of ambition


Parshat V’Yigash — you’ve got to love it. There’s the dramatic reconciliation between Joseph and his  brothers in the Egyptian courtroom, a complex back-story with daddy, tears, revelations, tests of character, you name it. You’ve got plot twists, fear of death, risk, character development, conflicting needs, power, family loyalties and tensions, and great costumes.  It’s all there – except for one tiny thing. Women.

Open your paper, look at who’s performing on the country’s stages, who’s leading companies, who’s providing political commentary on your TV — and while it’s true that there is greater gender equality,  according to Joan Williams’ What Works for Women at Work, at our current rate of change it will take another 250 years for women to have equal representation at the top.

We still aren’t promoted — including by other women, we still don’t promote ourselves, we still get punished for speaking out – including by other women, we still get mansplained, we still get interrupted more than men — including by other women, we still put ourselves down in a disproportionate manner,  we still get disliked for being ambitious — including by other women, etc. etc. etc.

And if this sounds like one long complaint, ask yourself how you would feel if this was written by a man. And I’m not finished yet.

At a recent, enormous, networking event, the entire professional line up was male. Unbelievable but true. This still happens. When the alpha male keynote speaker suddenly called for a volunteer, three people put up their hands out of 250 in the room. (He was a little scary.) The volunteer the speaker chose was (wait for it) male, white, able-bodied, young, tall and blonde.

At a creative morning event on the theme of equality, we were invited to turn to a partner and share our thoughts on the subject. My partner said, “I don’t believe in positive discrimination.” He was tall, strong, able-bodied, white, accompanied by a woman and in his late 20’s. He spoke the entire time allotted to us. When I tried to get a word in, I was told to let him finish.

At a recent webinar by an outstanding social media marketer, the speaker had complete control of the material, was au fait with the latest in her field, her links worked, her screens were clear, her everything was everything you would want. And she apologized about eight times.

You could argue that my anecdotes prove little but there are hundreds of studies that demonstrate bias is still alive and well and living amongst us. These are some of the subtle ways it expresses itself. Women have to prove their competence over and over again, men are judged by their potential and women by their experience, the successes of men are attributed to their skills while the successes of women are attributed to luck or help, women’s mistakes are remembered for longer, etc. etc. And if you think that bias is not an issue at your place of work, according to social scientists, this belief creates something called a social blindspot – where people who believe themselves above bias actually make more biased decisions than those who acknowledge it and create strategies to deal with it.

As we launch into 2018, there are things that you can do. There are concrete, actionable strategies you can begin applying tomorrow. You can start by reading Lean In by Sandberg and apply any of the systematic tactics she proposes.

In 2019, next time a court room comes around with a scene of power, drama, national impact, life and death, risk and character development, whether Egyptian or local, let’s plan for there to be more women in the room.

Next Thursday, 9 a.m., at SUBS, Beit Shemesh, I’ll be running a session called Beating Bias: soft skills for hard situations. Because this.

About the Author
Helen Gottstein, Loud and Clear Training, boosts public speaking skills for people of ambition and corporate teams so they reach their speaking goals. She's a popular public speaker, a TEDX mentor and a lousy cook.