Learning to use our voice and having the courage to speak out is something that many women struggle with. From the confidence-zapping stories we tell ourselves, to the fear of being criticised by others for saying what we really think, it can often feel safer to stay silent over speaking…
Is your voice being heard?
I’ve been thinking a lot about speaking up recently. I’ve finished co-writing my new book (July release), which is a new conversation on women, leadership and work. It’s been a process, developing new frameworks, debating paradigm shifts with my very clever business partner and best friend Michelle McQuaid, pouring through hundreds of pieces of research, and of course, hours and hours of the beloved writing.
It’s an interesting process to find your voice on the page. How bold should you be? How sturdy is the branch that you are swinging from with that new idea? How well backed up is your opinion? Just how far should you go to make your point? What will the criticism be when and if it comes. And that fear of all researchers and writers, what did we miss?
I also contemplate speaking up, as I prepare to interview Tara Moss on her new book to be released this month called Speaking Out (I will share the interview here). And most poignantly, as I read Gloria Steinem’s My Life On The Road. I will also write more about Ms Steinem in a few weeks when I hear her speak in Sydney, which I am very excited for. But one paragraph I was reading this morning really struck me and I wanted to share the thought with you. She recounts the story of being at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 when Martin Luther King. Jr., was leading the march on Washington in a campaign for jobs and justice. As he finished his remarks, Gloria Steinem heard Mahalia Jackson call out, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” And one of the most famous speeches in the history of the world, “I have a dream…” commenced.
What if Mahalia hadn’t spoken up on that day? What if she hadn’t called out “tell them about the dream Martin?” What if her voice, a woman’s voice so frequently silenced in those times, had not been heard? We will never know. But we do know that it made a profound difference to history on that day.
As I reflect on this, I think about where I need to raise my voice. Where I need to speak out. Where I need to be brave about starting conversations that matter, to do the work I want to do in the world. And I think about all the times I stayed silent in my life. In boardroom meetings where I waited for the man beside me to raise the issue I wanted to raise. In discussions with my boss, any number of them, where I disagreed and wanted to say so. In relationships where I bit my tongue instead of speaking my truth.
And I think about you, perhaps at work right now, preparing for a meeting, writing your emails, considering making requests and I ask you this: Where are you speaking up? Where are you staying silent? Where do you want to raise your voice, on what issues, on what projects, in what meetings? What do you really want to say to your boss, your team, your partner, your best friend or your kids? Where are you holding back? And why? What are the stories you are telling yourself about what might happen if you truly showed up, spoke up, and were seen? How can you challenge those stories, knowing that 90 per cent of them, if not all of them, just aren’t true?
We know that research tells us that there can be a double bind for women at work, and that speaking up is potentially a tightrope for women. We have heard all of the stories and as part of writing the new book, I devoured all of the studies about how difficult it can be for women to have their voices heard.
But what if it wasn’t? Research only applies to some of the women some of the time. So what if we ignored the tales about how challenging it can be for women to raise their voice? What if we pushed past the limiting stories in our own minds and just said what we wanted to say? What if we believed that we have just as much right, just as much intelligence, and just as much to gain as our male colleagues in raising that question in the meeting, and to be fine with the outcome of doing so, whatever that may be?
What if we just decided to speak? When our book comes out in July, you will have 80,000 words of wisdom, research, strategies and tools on how to show up and lead like a woman, including finding the confidence to be who you truly are.
For now though, as you go through your week, just ask yourself this question:
What do I want to say?
It’s time to change the conversation and change the game for women, leadership and work. And it starts with you, with me, and with us all speaking our truth. From the small things like speaking up when you get the wrong coffee order, to the important matters like challenging that strategy you just know won’t deliver the results, your voice matters.
So this week, and every week, make a commitment to yourself to speak up. To honour yourself, your intelligence, your power. And to have your voice be heard.