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Our Story

Shatter the glass ceiling with skills for greater visibility inside organizations

Photos Courtesy Getty Images, Lean In Collection - 2014

Letter from Founder


My name is Emily Donahoe-O'Keefe, and I founded WOMENSPEAK Training (WST) in 2007. WST is proud to be the first company to provide best practices public communications training for women. We believe that fluency in these skills drives top performance in women and enables organizations to catalyze untapped resources in their female employees.


A bit about our history. My interest in the effect of bias and gendered communication difference on women's visibility came from work with my own university students, clients and colleagues. My experience told me that women speak less than men in public, and that this has a negative impact on both their professional advancement and the organizations for which they work. I was curious to see if current research bore out what I casually had observed in my professional life. 


A robust body of research exists that confirms what I had seen. Women do speak less than men in public arenas: at work, at school, in the media, at the podium, even in group conversations. Deborah Cameron, a linguist at Oxford, writes "research shows that in mixed-sex discussions, it’s men who do most of the talking. The pattern is consistent, and statistically robust. The settings where it has been documented include not only laboratories, but also school and university classrooms, academic conferences, committee meetings, town meetings, Parliamentary debates and the comments sections of news websites."

But why?

Women consistently do not "speak up" – in part because many women are socialized to use language differently in public spaces and have less experience speaking in public as a result of their social and political history as a group.


But also because they are often censured for speaking upThey are spoken over or ignored. Women have unique, or "double-bind," obstacles in establishing credibility and relevance, and face an entirely separate set of image management and presentation concerns. They battle the "think-leader-think-male" stereotype, and are judged more harshly when in positions of leadership than men are. Women are perceived as having lower rates of "'envisioning,' the dimension "most closely associated with senior leadership."

Women battle stereotypes and bias about female voices in public spaces. One result of this largely socialized difference in presentation experience and style is its contribution to less women in the leadership pipeline. Deborah Tannen, the renowned socio-linguist from Georgetown University, asserts that "ways of speaking affect getting credit, getting heard and getting promoted." 

Less women in leadership isn't just bad for individual women; it also has a negative impact on the organizations for which women work. As one researcher notes, “When women participated more, they brought unique and helpful perspectives to the issue under discussion.” The report from the World Economic Forum's Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme finds that "a business or an economy’s competitive advantage is increasingly determined by innovative ideas or immaterial such a world, gender parity can no longer be treated as superfluous. Women make up a half of potential human capital available in any economy. The efficient use of this talent pool is a key driver of competitiveness." Companies with more women in top leadership positions, on average, far outperform those with fewer. 


WOMENSPEAK Training (WST) offerings align with the Diversity and Inclusion strategies of the world’s most forward thinking organizations. The guiding principle for all WST curricula is what we have termed the Collective Responsibility Model; this approach invites women, men, and companies to commit equally to building a greater share of voice for women within organizations. Our offerings provide both practical tools for bias interruption and amplification at each level of accountability, and metrics for the continued evolution of relevant Diversity and Inclusion initiatives.

WOMENSPEAK Training sessions are opportunities to build allies, to gain experience speaking publicly and to cultivate meaningful, authentic executive presence – in a manner that is aligned with the most sophisticated recommendations for building gender-intelligent organizations. 


Current research suggests that pay equity and equal representation of women in roles of societal leadership will not come until we make major infrastructural changes to end systemic discrimination. This means evolving culturally limited definitions of leadership, advocating for better child-care and family-leave policies, implementing sponsorship programs and updating talent management systems. 


Getting more women into roles of leadership will help drive these changes. Giving women and allies leadership communications best practices and tools for bias interruption will help get them there. This is a way in which women can, as Sheryl Sandberg says, “Lean In,” whilst at the same time asking for our peers, allies in diversity, and organizations to “lean in to women” as well: by learning how to listen, by examining potentially held bias, by understanding the cost to their own bottom lines in not hearing from the resource of the talent they hold in their female employees. 

Check out our offerings page for our services. Take a look at our WOMENSPEAK Training blog. We cite and catalog up-to-date information and tools that are germane to our work, and useful resources for study for our clients. 


This is our 14th year! Since 2007, we have worked with thousands of clients from all walks of professional life. Please be in touch with any questions or comments about what we offer. 


Emily Donahoe-O'Keefe

Founder / Principal


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