Lisa Åkesson, who will deliver the masterclass, Personal Impact for Women, on June 30, discusses her career and gives some insights on the challenges that women face
What prompted you to make the move from teaching to business coaching?
Interestingly enough I fell into the business world by accident. I was working with actors for stage, film and T.V at the time when I was invited to design and co-train “Assertiveness for Women” for the Metropolitan Police. I have to say that over the 3 months that we worked with these women, it was amazing to see them grow in confidence and learn how to hold their ground in what is a very hierarchical male -dominated organization. The difference it made to them and the gratitude they expressed inspired me to make the move from teaching to business coaching.
How do you think your background has helped you with your work?
Having studied English Literature, worked as an actress in theatre and film, become a voice specialist and a Master NLP practitioner, I have been able to draw on the mind, body, voice and language skills to inform my embodied work. This background helps me inspire individuals to ignite their personal power, claim their space and unlock their voices so they can own their message and step with confidence into their vision and reach their highest potential.
Studies have shown that people make first impressions within seconds. When you enter a room, the first thing people see is your appearance, then your physical posture, gesture, facial expression and what your movement says about you. Then you open your mouth to speak and we hear your voice. Does your sound exude credibility, gravitas and power? Do we believe you? Only when your body and voice are congruent with your words, do we give you our attention and listen to your message.
My background has provided me with tools to help individuals embody what they speak and become impactful and memorable communicators.
What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced – and how did you overcome it?
One of my biggest challenges was moving from the safety of employment to the uncertainty of starting up my own business 10 years ago. The first few years were tough as you work long hours with very little returns. I wondered at the time if I made the right decision. However, focusing on my vision and following my passion particularly to empower women kept me going. You have to be tough, resilient and believe somewhere deep inside of you that you can do it. I was lucky to have key friends and colleagues who gave me insightful advice as well as a supporting husband who helped me with the childcare. For me, this continues to be a journey of growth, learning and adventure. I have never looked back. Although there are many times I am stretched out of my comfort zone, I look forward to the exciting new ventures and opportunities that allow me to explore different organisational cultures, solve fresh problems and enable me to travel globally to work with so many diverse people who want to become powerful leaders, public speakers and influencers.
What has been the greatest experience in your career?
My greatest experience was working with Female University Professors in Saudi Arabia. I felt privileged to be invited into their world and help them become impactful presenters. I was so impressed by their openness to learn and to discover that hidden beneath their abayas were strong, passionate women with voices longing to be heard and opinions waiting to be expressed. Interestingly enough, it was that very year, in 2015, that women there were given the right to vote. About 130,000 women registered to vote. That figure falls well short of male voter registration, which stands at 1.35 million. However it was a start and I was thrilled to be part of their journey!
What are the biggest challenges you think women face
Starting in their career?
Women at the start of their career want to appear accomplished at their jobs and prove their worth. They do not want to create a fuss so they tend to keep their heads down, work extra hard, say, “yes” to everything and hope that their efforts will be noted and rewarded. Unfortunately this is not the case. As men are more comfortable taking space, being heard and asking for what they want, many get promoted over their female colleagues leaving women frustrated and demoralised.
Studies have shown that 57% of men at the start of their career will negotiate their first salaries compared to 7% of women. Women tend to be grateful for what is given to them, underestimate their potential and not ask for what they need.
As they are finding their feet in a new working culture and job role, they are also aware of how competitive this can be and that they have to prove to be more capable, likeable and effective. Their self-awareness is still forming and there are huge insecurities on how to come across and how best to influence sideways and upwards. They are unsure how to speak with Alpha Males or compete with women who appear to be more confident – women who take more space and can keep up with male banter and teasing.
I think one of the biggest challenges that women face at the start of their career is not to realize that they might be faced with gender discrimination. Working particularly within the financial sector, they can find that their confidence is chiseled away very quickly when sexist remarks are made. Younger women are less equipped to deal with them and can easily fall prey to bullying.
Women tend to be self -critical and over-reflective. They tend to take feedback more personally compared to men. This inevitably impacts on how they see themselves and how far they are willing to put themselves forward.
Women at the start of their career need to learn how to own their presence, reveal their personality, speak up and get the guidance they need to further develop their careers.
When rising through the ranks to senior position
The biggest challenge here is confidence. Being bold enough to take your space, whether it is leading, pitching, chairing a meeting or presenting in public. It is about speaking up, having a voice and holding your ground. It is the ability to question, challenge, call out unacceptable behaviours and stand by your values.
Whilst we are aware that gender bias, unconscious bias and stereotypes exist, women are equally guilty of holding themselves back. The inner critic voice can stop many women from putting themselves forward and taking risks. Often women will say they don’t feel “good enough”, “clever enough” or “interesting enough”. Research has shown that women will apply for a job if they have 100% of qualifications while men will apply for a job if they have 60% of the qualifications. Women tend to feel that they have to tick all the boxes before they are worthy of stepping into that “big, new role”. These self- limiting beliefs are one of the key reasons why many women don’t put themselves forward and fulfill their true potential.
Madeleine Albright (the first woman to become the U.S Secretary of State) was once asked by a group of professional women what advise she would give them. She said “learn to interrupt”. Yes, women have to learn how to handle interruptions but equally know how and when to interrupt so their voices are heard. They need to learn to speak up early and be visible if they want to be taken seriously.
Finally, women need to be brave and ask for what they need. This could be a pay rise, a promotion, a mentor or an audience. They have to turn up with a presence that says “I am confident “. They have to recognize that when they do get the senior role, sit on boards, run companies and affect powerful decisions that they are not token gestures. They have earned their place at the table and should show up with personal power, credibility, authority and authenticity.
What do you have that can help women break through some of these challenges?
Most of my work with women is helping them take their space, find their voice and own their message. From having worked with thousands of women, particularly at senior level now, I know that the key area that holds women back is confidence. My job is to take women on a journey that enables them to be self-aware of how they come across and provide them with powerful tools so they are able to step into their roles and move towards their goals with confidence.
We work on physical presence and how to show up with gravitas.
We work on the voice and how to project it so your message lands with power. We deal with nerves and how breathing deeply can not only slow your pace down but also help you exude calm and control. We look at the power of the pause and how to dynamically hold your listener’s attention. We also explore vocal variety so you don’t come across as monotonous and boring but leave a memorable message that inspires and motivates others to take action.
I also help women learn to flex their behavioural style. Most women do approachable behaviour and look to be approved and liked. However, leaning how to access your credible behaviour will help you gain the respect you deserve. When women understand how they come across and what has stopped them from being powerful and influential communicators, their desire to change happens very quickly.
Tell us about some of the experiences you have had with women and companies you’ve worked with, that are examples of breakthroughs you can help other women achieve?
I have been very fortunate to work with numerous companies from the public to the private sector such as Coca–Cola Enterprises, Hallmark Cards, Cisco, Amazon, Barclays, HSBC, EY, CVC Capital, JP Morgan, Shell, Microsoft, Bloomberg TV, CNN, Harry Winston Watches, LSE, MOD and The Home Office.
Women have come back with numerous stories of how the trainings, workshops or one to one coaching have changed their lives.
Many have shared how their increased confidence has meant that they turn up more powerfully – taking their space, owning their voices and realising their contributions matter. This shift affects how others have perceived them. They are now described as “confident”, having “leadership skills”, “making a difference”. They have found they are listened to more, respected more and interrupted less. They are surprised by the impact they can now create and how they can hold the attention of others through their embodied presence.
Many have shared how recognizing their worth and value has meant that they are now able to ask for pay rises and accept promotions offered to them. They are not afraid of negotiating salaries and stipulating what they want. This has led many to receive what is due to them or more.
Women who would naturally avoid the limelight now volunteer to give a talk or present because they have the tools to be impactful and know how this will raise their profile ad visibility.
A woman professor I worked with spoke of how her lectures are now so well received that she has gets top grades on her performance from her students. They no longer hide behind their phones or tablets but instead look forward to hearing her speak and sharing her knowledge.
One client described the outcome of on my trainings as “I have since been approached by a headhunter to develop a new business initiative simply because of the additional confidence that is now evident from the workshop.”
Finally, many women who had been afraid of change, have now taken the bold step to leave their place of work because they did not feel appreciated, the culture there was not aligned to their values or that it was just time for them to move on. They have said what a huge relief and pleasure it has been to have the courage to follow their vision and embark on journey that excited, stretched and made a difference to their lives.
For further information on Lisa Åkesson’s trainings/ coaching: www.lisaakeson.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find out more about Lisa’s masterclass here.