The Daily Mail reported that nearly half of women use a "more masculine tone" of voice at work, while 56.7 percent of women dress more conservatively. Both of these measures supposedly boost women's careers, according to a survey conducted by One Poll for Business Environment, a company I couldn't find on Google.
The Mail dubbed the behavioral trends these findings allegedly expose "The Iron Lady Effect" after former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's own image transformation. She took elocution lessons to combat her own "too-feminine" voice and kicked her love of hats altogether after meeting with various image consultants (although she refused to give up her signature pearls). "The Iron Lady," the biopic of the PM released at the end of December, starring Meryl Streep, has set off a new wave of women idolizing Thatcher, according to the CEO of One Poll for Business Environment, David Saul.
Saul told The Daily Mail:
As the first major female leader of our times, it's not completely unexpected that today's women should want to emulate [Thatcher] in various ways -- intentionally or not. Whilst it is still widely reported that women still have some way to go in terms of boardroom equality, evidence suggests they are well on their way to the dizzy heights of 'Thatcherdom' once again.
But let's recall that Thatcher was never all that popular among women -- and didn't really strive to be. "I owe nothing to Women's Lib," she famously said. Although she certainly broke through the glass ceiling to become Britain's first female prime minister, her policies generally ran counter to the interests of 1970's feminism. As author Linda Grant recounted to The Guardian in 2005:
Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative party at the height of the women's movement, yet she was completely apart from our campaigns, our passions and our identity. She was the middle-aged woman with the hats, the pearls ... and the policies which had nothing to do with equal pay for work of equal value.
Perhaps women do strive to emulate Thatcher's drive and accomplishments -- or will, now that "The Iron Lady" has put her back in the spotlight. Still, it strikes me that there are many more reasons women might decide to dress conservatively at work -- not wanting to draw attention to one's sexuality at work, complying with an office dress code -- that come way ahead of mastering PM chic, or even the power associated with it.
And as for the supposed voice-lowering phenomenon, since Thatcher was in office from 1979 to '90, many young working women probably aren't aware of how low her voice was, much less that she put effort into making it that way. But the larger question I think, is who are these women who are intentionally lowering their voices at work? Do people really do that? If you've witnessed it, please chime in in the comments. (I suspect that if I tried to lower my voice, I would end up sounding more like a phone sex operator than a boardroom professional.)
For me, this survey seems like another example of the way women are consistently given mixed messages about how to dress, speak and act in the office -- capitalize on your sexuality but don't sleep around, wear makeup but not too much makeup, dress conservatively but not in a way that looks masculine.
Instead of trying to follow all of those directives, your best bet is probably to dress and conduct yourself in a way that feels comfortable for you and fits into your company's culture. It's definitely easier than dropping your voice an octave.
Follow Emma Gray on Twitter: www.twitter.com/emmaladyrose