July 14, 2007 — -- Betty Davis sounds like a typical little girl. It is not alarming until you realize Davis is a 58-year-old professional.
She said she always has had a small voice.
"In high school, some of the boys, they would mimic me," she said. "When I walked down the hall, you know: 'Here comes Betty!'"
But the embarrassment continued for years, well into adulthood. It interfered with her dating and professional lives. She even was fired from a job because of her little voice.
"I heard them in the office talking about how I didn't sound right on the phones, and that it sounds like there's a kid answering the phones," Davis said.
And while Davis' story of losing a job may be extreme, workplace experts said like your appearance your voice can make a difference.
"A kittenish little voice says to me, 'Don't crush me. Protect me. Take care of me,'" said New York University business school professor Sheila Wellington. "Kittens don't get big jobs."
Experts siad the way women speak can have a direct impact on their success, but it also is a matter of expressing themselves well.
Wellington said she believes pop culture has had a large impact on young women and girls.
"I think the Paris Hiltons, and the Lindsay Lohans and the clueless movies are having an impact both on young women when they see that these are the darlings of the entertainment and media industry," Wellington said.
Voice coach Ita Olson teaches people to get rid of the little girl voices.
"Using too much tension and using too much energy really just ends up with a voice that's too high," Olson said. "But once I'm able to let it go, my voice comes out a lot more fully, much more resonate, much more relaxed."
Although a small percentage of people may have a medical condition that causes them to have an extremely high-pitched voice, Olson said most problems can be solved with voice lessons.
"You need to learn how to relax," she said. "You need to learn how to use air for speech. And you also need to learn how to use resonance that will make your voice a little thicker, that could give you a sound that's really professional, really sophisticated."
Davis said she had come to accept the way she sounds. She now has a job where her colleagues and clients embrace her and what they call the sweetness in her voice.
"I think it's fine now, but you learn to accept things and show people that you are just as good as they are," Davis said. "Everyone's got something wrong with them."
Some people actually opt for vocal cord surgery to change the tone of their voice. Doctors said it's easier to lower the pitch of a voice than to make it higher. The procedure can cost anywhere between $15,000 and $25,000.