Every workplace has suffered from some degree of miscommunication, but what might not be clear is how some of these problems arise from damaging stereotypes and hurdles related to gender. Understanding these dynamics is the expertise of Dr. Amelia Reigstad, a White Bear Lake communication coach who recently launched a workshop series in honor of International Women’s Day (March 8). The series focuses on women’s empowerment in the workplace.
On March 8, Reigstad was one of a group of women invited to join host Sheinelle Jones in a virtual conversation titled “Women are Essential” on the TODAY Show.
“It was an incredible experience to be part of this event and meet amazing women from across the country on International Women’s Day,” Reigstad said. “It truly matches the motto of the Women Empowerment Series—Communicate. Be empowered. Make a difference.”
Reigstad earned her masters’ and Ph.D. in communication and gender studies at the University of Leicester in the U.K. Communication researchers have known for decades that gender dynamics play a large role in the way communication plays out in the workplace. From a young age, children are often encouraged to act in ways that affirm their gender presentation: girls are often rewarded for behaving cooperatively, while boys are rewarded for behaving competitively, Reigstad explained.
“Those things come through with us to adulthood and transfer over to the workplace in how we communicate,” she said. “Research will tell us men communicate this way, women this way, and we’re kind of slotted into these boxes, and that’s where stereotypes start to play a role. We can’t say men communicate much more aggressively than women. Some might, but there are women who communicate aggressively, and we can’t say all women are passive or emotional.”
Each person’s communication style is situational, and may exhibit a diverse blend of characteristics. That’s what makes it so important to understand one’s own communication habits and how to interact with others whose style might be different. Personality assessments and reflective evaluation can help determine what communication techniques might work best in each individual’s day-to-day work life, Reigstad said.
While everyone can benefit from understanding more about effective communication in the workplace, Reigstad wanted to address women in particular with this series. Women are still a minority in high-ranking business positions—in 2021, only 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, Reigstad shared.
“Women empowerment is really about encouraging women to use our voices to initiate change,” Reigstad said. This might be taking a stand for gender equality in the workplace, or even building the skills and confidence to have a challenging conversation with a supervisor.
She was inspired to begin the series when she noticed the outpouring of support and respect after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020.
“She was all about gender equality in the workplace, and she was just a spitfire,” Reigstad said. “She’d show up with her pearls and her collar. I talk a lot about the importance of being your authentic self, and she was her authentic self right to the very end. She just didn’t put up with anything.”
Reigstad held her first three-part women empowerment series in October. It quickly sold out. Women from a wide variety of backgrounds and from businesses all over the nation were drawn to the resources it offered. The second series is now underway.
Understanding gender communication in the workplace isn’t just for women—in fact, it’s essential that men make the effort to understand and act as allies to women in their workplace, Reigstad said.
“We really want men to go through this with us, to stand up to situations that might happen in the workplace,” she said. “It’s not just Hear Us Roar, that’s only part of the conversation. We also need men to have our backs with some of these conversations.”
In addition to the Women Empowerment Series, Reigstad hosts a monthly virtual Lunch & Learn session. Each session addresses a single communication concept, such as authenticity, imposter syndrome, confidence and managing emotion in workplace interactions.
For anyone wondering how to make a start improving communication in their work or personal life, Reigstad recommends thinking hard about communication as a two-way interaction. Notice whether you are actually listening, rather than just waiting to respond, she said.
“We are all guilty of it; we have something on the tip of our tongue and cannot wait to open our mouth and let those words come out, with no idea what’s being said to us. If we’re not actively listing to each other, that can lead to miscommunication.”
Practicing active listening, responding to the speaker and asking for clarifications can go a long way toward a smoother interaction and a more efficient workplace.
As part of her consultation services, Reigstad also offers customized sessions for businesses that will assess communication practices and offer guidance to improve efficiency.
Learn more about the series and Reigstad’s other communication consultation services at her website, ameliareigstad.com.