"I know! Her Spanish is excellent," I agree.
"Yes, she has a great command of the language," Paco said. "But it's her voice that's really authentic. She has a deep, raspy voice. That's what Spanish women her age sound like."
I filed this away in my mental "cross-cultural reflections" folder...
Years later, I worked in corporate training and focused on women's professional development programs. Of all the topics I designed trainings for, communication was by far the most popular. (I'd average 30% higher attendance for any topic related to "how to sound like a leader" as compared to other topics like "mentoring" or "networking.") Clearly, communications skill building was in demand.
What do you talk about in a training session on effective communication at work?
When you focus on women in the workplace, it's a complex and nuanced topic (that's much more broad than this blog post), but the notion of pitch/tone is essential. In the U.S., in a professional setting, women are taken more seriously when they speak from the belly, vs. the throat. High-pitched voices are either filtered out, dismissed, or lose credibility. They may read "too emotional."
As I hear the occasional international news interview with women from around the world, I think about how, culture by culture, women are socialized to speak with a certain pitch. High-pitched voices may be considered sweet and feminine in some cultures, whereas raspy, deep voices may be feminine in others. We are socialized to learn what's right. Perhaps by our mothers and sisters. Perhaps at a training session at work.
In a news interview, what's the impact of a soundbite of a woman who sounds shrill?
How does this shape the viewer's opinion of the woman's point of view? To what extent does it detract from her credibility?
How does the sound of the women's comment impact our opinion on the particular issue the news story is covering? (Or...extrapolating a little...on how we view politics? On how we vote?)