Female Leadership and Trust: Guest Blog by Carolina Perez Sanz

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by Helio Fred Garcia

This is my seventh in a series of guest blogs featuring my recently-graduated capstone (thesis) advisees in New York University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.

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See my earlier posts:

In this blog, Carolina Perez Sanz summarizes her capstone, focusing on the particular challenges women face in a workforce where men disproportionately fill the top positions.  This could apply to banking, engineering, or any other industry.

And Carolina develops insights that would apply to all similar sectors.

But her primary focus is public relations, where women are 70 percent of the workforce but only four percent of the leaders.

Carolina completed a PhD in applied linguistics at Instituto Universitario de Investigación Ortega y Gasset in Spain. She is also a certified speech therapist.  For her PhD she did extensive research into how female broadcasters use their voices when performing on the air.

Her dissertation, “Laryngeal Adjustments in the Voice of Female Broadcasters,” uses a technique called electroglottography to analyze the physiology of professional broadcasters’ larynxes when using their conversational speaking style and when using their professional speaking style. She showed that when speakers hyper-articulate, not only do they move their jaws, lips and tongues faster and more strongly, but also their larynxes.

She also writes her own blog, Power at Speech, that focuses on how voice and speech influence the perception of public figures’ personalities.

Carolina, who just received her M.S. in public relations and corporate communications from New York University’s School of Professional Studies, moved from science to social science, looking at women in leadership.

She takes into account cultural and personal biases, and also reflects on current insights on leadership generally.

She builds an interesting model based on trust at  three levels of leadership:

  • Being trusted to perform tasks
  • Being trusted to manage projects
  • Being trusted to lead people

She notes that many women find themselves stuck at the first or second level, and offers strategies to overcome this self-sabotage.

Her insights can help women in public relations and other fields reverse much of the marginalization they experience, and build more fruitful careers.

You can download the entire capstone here.


Female Leadership: How Women Can Inspire Trust and
Become Leaders in Male-Dominated Work Environments

by Carolina Perez Sanz, PhD, MS

Carolina Perez Sans, PhD, MS

Carolina Perez Sanz, PhD, MS

If being very good at what one did was the critical factor to becoming a leader, the business world would look very different. Competence is necessary, but certainly not enough to taking on the mantle of leadership.

In the highly feminized industry of public relations, the disproportionate numbers between female employees (70%) and female top leaders (4%) gives proof of this disparity. Women get the work done because they excel in competence and ability, but it is men who set the goals and strategies for the firms.

The reason is that inspiring trust, and not mastering skills, is the defining trait of leaders.

Trust Is Key

Trust happens (or does not) between two people in a relationship. It is complex and nuanced, and different factors on both sides of the relationship contribute to bolster or cripple it.

The trustor (the person who trusts) needs to be in a psychological state of trust. The context of the relationship, personal and social biases, and the reputation of the other party influence the trustor’s inclination – or lack of thereof – to trust.

Factors That Contribute to Trust

Factors That Contribute to Trust

The trustee (the person to be trusted) needs to appear trustworthy in the eyes of the trustor. To do so, he or she has to possess and display certain characteristics.

The typical features that boost trustworthiness are grouped into three categories: ability, integrity and benevolence.

Ability: “I Can”

Ability encompasses the capabilities that professionals have that allow them to perform the assigned tasks. It includes the knowledge, experience, expertise and skills that are in the realm of the work that needs to be done. The expression ‘I can’ symbolizes the Ability level of trust.

Gardeners prove ability with their knowledge about plants, soil and weather, their patience, or their photographic memory. For neurosurgeons, ability includes a steady hand, a deep knowledge of brain anatomy, or being able to concentrate for long periods.

Integrity: “I Will”

Integrity is built on behaviors such as keeping one’s word, being loyal to the other party and the relationship, and respecting a set of values that both parties adhere to. The Integrity level reflects an ‘I will’ attitude.

Mail carriers exhibit integrity when they deliver the mail in a timely fashion to the right recipients, or when they don’t disclose mailing information to other recipients or senders. Public relations professionals show integrity by not working for a client’s direct competitor, or by not sharing clients’ confidential information.

Benevolence: “I Care”

Benevolence entails being able to put the other party’s objectives ahead of our own, demonstrating good will towards the other party in a business relationship, and caring for them more than we care for ourselves.

But it doesn’t mean sacrifice for the sake of an abstract concept of goodness, or avoiding hurting other people’s feelings. In business contexts, being benevolent means to behave in ways that are best for our clients and/or company.  ‘I care’ summarizes the Benevolence level.

For advisors, benevolence entails speaking truth to power. They show benevolence because they act in the boss’s or client’s best interest and are ready to put their own position at risk. Attorneys demonstrate benevolence when they turn down cases that they cannot win.

3 levels of trust

The Competence – Trust Gap

The Three-Level Model of Trust provides an explanation for the imbalance between women’s participation in the workforce and their share of leadership. As Climb Leadership Consulting president Chuck Garcia very accurately told me, “Women strive for perfection, while men strive for progress.” In other words, women excel in the ability level.

Three Self-Sabotaging Mistakes

Perfectionism leads women to three common self-sabotaging mistakes that undermine their ability to inspire trust and hence, stifle their leadership potential.

  • Deference to authority
    When women’s most important objective is to deliver spotless, perfect work, they reflect that they expect that an authority figure will judge them and their work.Because they defer to a higher authority, they tend to hold back in meetings.Expecting (and fearing) to be judged, they prefer not to share an idea lest it be imperfect.And since they believe they need someone to validate their ideas, they are not assertive. Striving for perfection makes some women berate themselves for the mistakes they make.Again, their fear to be judged compels them to self-justify before someone starts pointing fingers at their mistake.
  • Inability to create and project a vision
    When they berate themselves for not being perfect, they show their inability to see errors as points in time and necessary steps for progress. They get stuck in what went wrong and why, which prevents them from looking to the future and finding the solution.Women apply only for jobs they feel they are perfect for.According to LeanIn.org, women don’t apply for jobs unless they meet 100% of the criteria, while men apply when they meet 60%. Besides insecurity, this habit reflects these women’s incapability to envisage their future selves. They can’t foresee how they will change and learn on the job because they consider only how they are now.
  • Lack of benevolence
    The perfectionist’s main objective is to be judged well. Benevolence, on the contrary, implies being able to erase oneself and work in the other party’s best interest.When women strive for perfection, they imply that they care about how they appear to others more than they care for others.

Bridging the Gap

While aiming at high quality standards is commendable, women need to get past the “worker ant” stage if they want to reach top leadership positions.

Showing authentic care for the objectives of others is what defines leaders.

When speaking in public, leaders care about the audience and help them connect. When leading teams, leaders care about the followers and help them thrive.

When leading a company, leaders embody its vision and help employees work strategically towards the ultimate goal.

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You can download the entire capstone here.

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