In honor of Women’s History Month, Allison Shapira addresses 5 of the top communication challenges shared by women leaders with whom we’ve worked over the past 20 years. Please share this as a resource with women on your team or in your network.

While everyone needs public speaking skills, we have found that when women lack these skills, it disproportionately holds us back. Often due to the fact that we are one of the few or only women in the room, people are paying closer attention and any missteps in communication play into our audience’s stereotypes of women. 

My work over the past 10 years with the nonprofit Vital Voices Global Partnership has opened my eyes to the challenges faced by women leaders around the world who are running for office, launching nonprofits, or growing their businesses. Imagine the courage it takes a woman to run for office in a country where it’s considered rude for her to speak in front of a group of men! 

At Global Public Speaking, our team has worked with some of the most senior women executives from the Fortune 500 as well as helped them prepare the next generation of women leaders.

Through our GPS ACE Accelerator for Women Leaders, we’ve found that when we create a safe learning environment where women can sharpen their skills and discuss common challenges, they build their confidence to speak up and move into more senior leadership positions. 

Certainly, we do not paint all women with broad strokes; there are likely as many differences among women as there are across genders. However, in our programs, women tend to repeat the same challenges regardless of their career level.

As this article discusses challenges faced by women, we acknowledge the broader category of individuals who experience these cultural and social implications. Our definition of women is meant to include cisgender women, transgender women, and gender-expansive individuals.

Here are five communication challenges, along with strategies to overcome them.

1. When women don’t have the right skills, they blame themselves.

Women will often say, “I should know this” when reaching out for executive communication coaching. They are sometimes embarrassed to tell their leaders or coworkers that they’re pursuing coaching. 

One woman in management took time off to have children, and when she returned to the office, she was nervous about her public speaking skills. Rather than recognize it was a challenge everyone faced, she assumed everyone else learned it while she was out and blamed herself for not knowing. My response was, “You’re not alone. Very few people actually receive this training over the course of their career.” 

How can we overcome this negative self-talk? Adopt a growth mindset and recognize that everyone is learning at their own pace.

2. Women feel the need to be perfect when they communicate.

Especially in the United States, due to the expectations of women in our society, we feel the need to be perfect: hair in place, perfect make-up, cover up those gray hairs. As an adult, I remember suggesting to my mother that I stop covering my grays. In the most loving way possible, she replied, “Over my dead body” – such a strong response that it actually made me rethink the idea. 

Given these expectations, we feel our communication skills need to be perfect as well. But think about the last time you saw a perfect speaker. Did you trust them because they were perfect? 

We are more likely to trust authenticity, which is why in our workshops we teach authenticity over perfection. Perfection leads to over-preparing and wasting time feeling anxious about our lack of 100% knowledge. It can also hold us back from raising our hand for a senior leadership role. We recommend a repeatable process to prepare for public speaking that lets you focus your time effectively. Earlier this year, we shared 5 Opportunities to Improve Your Communication Skills in 2023, which provides ideas for places to practice public speaking.

3. Women report being interrupted or disregarded in meetings or events.

This takes many forms. In nearly every women’s program we run, as well as our recent LinkedIn poll, we hear the complaint that women are often interrupted by their colleagues. Or, they speak up and no one listens to their idea, but a male colleague makes the same comment later on and everyone validates it. In one of our workshops at a Fortune 50 bank, a male managing director arrived for the program, looked around at the women in the room who had already arrived, and asked me, “Am I the first one here?” 

Around the world, we often hear stories of senior women executives being mistaken for junior assistants due to their gender. My clients and colleagues who are women of color often express how those experiences are magnified. 

An effective strategy for combating interruptions is to amplify the voices of others. Many of us have been interrupted. When we see it happen to others, we can speak up to redirect the conversation back to the person speaking so that she can complete her thought, idea, or suggestion. Building relationships with others in the room helps them play that role for us.

4. Women report not knowing how to jump into a conversation.

While women are often interrupted in meetings, they express hesitation at jumping into a conversation so as not to be rude. Sometimes, however, it’s important to jump into a conversation when you sense the dynamics in the room have shifted and you want to redirect the topic. 

That’s why we recommend the “Compliment and Build” technique. Wait for the person speaking to finish a thought or take a breath, and then jump in: compliment them, then “build” on what they were saying. Note: this is a better technique to use with colleagues than with clients! With clients, we often recommend an active listening approach.

5. Women don’t feel comfortable promoting themselves and their accomplishments.

Women often find it challenging to acknowledge their achievements because it feels like bragging. Similarly, they often find it challenging to negotiate on their own behalf, and research shows the social costs of negotiating are higher for women than for men. 

We even see different types of questions being asked of women as opposed to men, according to this article in the Harvard Business Review, Male and Female Entrepreneurs Get Asked Different Questions by VCs — and It Affects How Much Funding They Get

I’ll often say, “Your work doesn’t speak for itself; you have to speak for it.” We can take pride in our accomplishments, validate others who played a role in that success, and demonstrate our commitment to the organization overall and the impact we’d like to have.  It is about using your skills and agency to draw attention to your work and the mission to which you and your team are committed. 

I share these five challenges to demonstrate that you are not facing them alone.To overcome them, we recommend consistently refining, practicing and building on your current skills while developing new skills and new allies who can amplify your impact. 

Use these strategies to help navigate challenges and create a safe, supportive environment for everyone on your team.

What communication challenges have you faced in your career? Share your answers with me at or on LinkedIn.