Trisha Bauman ’84: How Women Can Ascend the Ladder

Trisha Bauman ’84 talks to students about women and office dynamics. Photo by Rita Liao ’

Trisha Bauman ’84 talks to students about women and office dynamics. Photos by Rita Liao ’15

In Trisha Bauman’s recent campus talk on women and leadership, she quickly got to the crux of the issue. “If you were to look at a trend line of the percentage of MBA graduates comprised by women from the seventies to today, you’d see about a 45-degree angle,” she said. “If you were to add the percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs comprised by women, you’d see roughly a flat line. So something’s not working.”

Trisha Bauman teaching a theater class

Trisha Bauman teaching a theater class

Bauman’s talk, organized by the student group Bowdoin Women in Business, was one of many workshops and classes she offered to students during a recent trip back to Bowdoin. “My presence on campus over these few days reflects the ways I’ve been active professionally since graduating,” she explained.

Earlier in Bauman’s career, she performed worldwide as an actor and dancer with several of France’s national contemporary dance and theater companies. During her recent visit to Bowdoin, she taught two classes, a composition class in dance and a theater class.

Bauman is also the founder and CEO of the leadership communications firm TJBauman, based in New York City. After teaching her theater and dance classes, she transitioned into her business consulting mode and met with a small group of students to discuss women’s leadership and workplace dynamics. Following this, she led a dinner discussion with members of the student group, Slam Poets Society, on how to create a winning TED Talk. Over the weekend, she also participated in the annual Women in Business panel with four other successful women: Karen Mills, Paula Volent, Lucy Orloski ’06 and Dani Chediak ’13. On her final day at Bowdoin, she conducted a workshop on Laban Movement Analysis, a form of nonverbal communications analysis, organized by Tim Sowa ’14 and sponsored by the Slam Poets Society and several College departments.

Women in the Workplace
At her lunchtime talk on women and leadership, Bauman told the group of female students sitting around her that to fix the problem of gender disparity in leadership, both institutional structures and workplace behaviors must shift. “Until both are addressed, we’re not going to solve the problem,” she said.

When she coaches women executives, Bauman focuses on what she calls “micro-dynamics,” or the small ways people communicate with one another, the subtle messages they convey from moment to moment. (While Bauman spoke specifically about women for this event, she works with both men and women on effective leadership communications.) “I look at the micro-level,” she said, “such as what’s happening between executives, and how that daily interaction drives outcomes and expectations, and encourages or discourages behaviors.”

For instance, male executives might, even if unconsciously, marginalize women at a meeting by failing to make eye contact with them. Or they might interrupt a female colleague who’s making small talk with a client by saying, “Okay, let’s get down to business,” thereby diminishing her and grabbing control of the situation.

“The challenge is how you stay connected with your purpose and entitlement when you’re getting the message from peers or superiors that you’re simply not cutting it,” she said. To deal with these biases, Bauman advises women executives to become more aware of them, and to view the unintended slights as the result of cultural patterns rather than personal failings. This way, they will be “less prone to interpreting them personally and telling themselves, ‘I don’t belong here,’” she said.

Bauman also advises women how to develop skills to assert themselves without appearing aggressive or pugnacious. “Studies show that women executives face a double bind: too nice or too bossy,” Bauman explains. While minimizing what might convey ‘too nice’, Bauman said, “You don’t have to cut yourself off from your warmth and friendliness.” Indeed, she added, the most influential and effective leaders have a “magic formula” of competence and warmth.

One seemingly simple way women can avoid communicating insecurity is to change their speech patterns, according to Bauman. Women tend to overuse first-person pronouns, beginning statements with, “I think” or “I find.” This habit tends to lessen the impact of their statements. Some women professionals, especially younger ones, are also prone to adopting a questioning tone of voice, ending declarative sentences as if they’re unsure of what they’re saying. To combat this tendency, Bauman, drawing upon her theater background, coaches women to visualize their voice traveling along an arc, like a ball, landing right in front of the person they’re speaking to.

Bauman also offered tips to the students on how to negotiate for themselves in the workplace, whether for a raise, a promotion, or more department resources. “Be warm, direct and have a clear sense of purpose,” she said.

At the end of her talk, she told the students she was pleased to see that they were thinking about how women can thrive and ascend in the workplace. “It’s so good you’re involving yourself in this dialogue now,” she said. “I wish I had had this opportunity at your age.”

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