Voice Pitch and Career Success

by | Jul 25, 2019

James Earl Jones has a super low voice (about 85 Hz vs. the average male’s 125 Hz)

Does the pitch of your voice have an affect on career success? It might.

For males, having a deep sounding voice confers an advantage. Studies have found that males with deeper voices mate more frequently, father more children, seem more attractive to females and are overall perceived as more dominant physically as well as socially.

In a fascinating study, researchers from Duke and UCSD studied the voice pitches of male CEOs of public companies on earnings calls. Their main finding was that “deep voiced males oversee larger firms, in turn receiving more compensation, and are retained longer.

Note, however, that the study found a correlation, not causation. It could be that men with deeper voices are in fact more dominant due to hormones or physical size. Thus, merely lowering one’s voice may not cause greater career success.

How about voice pitch for females? From an evolutionary mating perspective, a higher pitched voice is advantageous for females because it signals agreeableness. The Duke/UCSD study did not examine voices of female CEOs due to lack of sufficient female CEO voice data. The researchers did postulate that a deeper voice is also advantageous for female leaders and voice pitch differences between males and females may be part of the reason females are under-represented in the CEO ranks and when they are CEOs they tend to run smaller companies.

A study out of Australia found that since the 1940s women’s voice pitch has deepened. Why? According to a BBC report on the study, “the researchers speculated that the transformation reflects the rise of women to more prominent roles in society, leading them to adopt a deeper tone to project authority and dominance in the workplace.” The BBC also noted that Margaret Thatcher used a speech coach to help her lower the pitch of her speaking voice to project greater dominance and authority.

Reportedly, Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of embattled firm Theranos, fakes a deep voice to project dominance. Check out this clip of her:

Dominance is not always called for in a corporate setting. The Duke/UCSD study noted that “An alternative perspective is that in some corporate situations, soliciting input and achieving democratic consensus are important. In such situations, dominance may not be a desirable executive trait and a deep voice may be punished, not rewarded.” Thus, having a higher pitched voice may lead to success in corporate areas other than executive management such as HR, recruiting or customer service.

1 Comment

  1. Women’s voices, like most else about women, get caught in the cultural double bind. An occupational hazard of my work is that I have to listen to ALOT of talks. Often I have to cringe when I hear my scientific sisters speak with a squeaky little girl voice that can barely be heard and use that annoying upswing at the end of declarative sentences.
    Pitch is important but so are the overall aesthetics of prosody (intonation, cadence, resonance, warmth) — it is probably only since women started speaking in public that women’s voices have been paid attention to…


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