When I was regularly sat in the real Boardroom of corporate life, I remember that finding my voice in meetings for huge for me.
As I mentioned in the vid I posted earlier in the week, I was the only female in the room and the youngest by about 15 years at the time.
There was pressure. Not everyone was my fan [in fact some were actual barriers to my progression.] I would get asked to pour the tea (I kid ye not). There was patronising looks, words, body language, dismissive and cursory behaviour.
Hardly a fertile ground for growth, but I battled on.
I’d have a question to ask, and I’d be waiting for the right moment, a gap in proceedings, checking-in with myself as to whether the question was a stupid one or something I should already know or if it was relevant or profound enough. Often the moment would pass and I’d be left unheard. Or someone else would raise “my” point first, and get applauded for their insight, and I’d be left kicking myself.
Or when I got the courage to speak up I’d find myself stuttering a bit or coming across uncertain and meek and I’d be like “wtf is the matter with me?!” which isn’t exactly a stable foundation of confidence for the next attempt.
There’s lots of evidence to show that when women are asking questions in meetings, we tend to open up with an apology. “I’m sorry, could I just ask a question?”
The apology lessens the power of our words, makes us look unsure, and also belittles what is a very important word when used properly in context. I worked with a coach in recent years who banned apologising in his work and groups. If we apologised we had to do the chicken dance.
What are we even sorry for anyway? Under the surface, we’re apologising in advance in case we’re not clever enough, or clear enough, or not important enough. Doubting our ability to be relevant, or useful, or make a difference. Doubting ourselves.
This is a huge topic, and I’m just putting it out there (on a Wednesday mid-week lunch, as you do) because for many of you in here the “finding your voice” and speaking out on topics/causes/subjects you care about, being heard in the workplace or within your industry….it’s an ongoing challenge and an evolution for us to work with.
Let’s bear in mind it’s only 100 years since we got the vote in the UK (well, wealthy women over 30 that is). Across the world there are millions of women who cannot use their voices – literally – for fear of their lives.
So it’s not surprising that so many of us have deep-rooted resistance to speaking out, speaking up, being seen, getting visible, being valued for our words, overcoming resistance around having a voice and using it for impact or change. Socially conditioned, a product of our experiences, the stories we’ve heard, the things we’ve seen, the injustices we’ve witnessed, the many “it doesn’t work like that” overtones which have shadowed us around.
And at a local level, we can be silent in our relationships, our families, our friendships, tolerating things or staying silent. How many of us have been accomplices to wrongdoing by virtue of the fact that we didn’t intervene, or get involved. Watching, quietly, taking ourselves out of the picture.
I believe it is our duty to continue the equality battle and to continue dismantling the patriarchy. I have two girls to raise and the world is different and changing rapidly for them, some things for the better, some things frighteningly in the other direction. Some of you have boys to raise and you will be passionate about helping them grow to appreciate, value, empower women as equals.
Our actions matter as much – if not more than – our words. Your words need to align with your actions and vice versa.
A huge topic, as I say.
But let’s just reflect today on a very simple way to practise with our voices. We can choose mindfully, intentionally, quietly but confidently, to use our voices truthfully and in line with our values and our true opinions. Every day. Peacefully, more powerfully if we must and if the circumstances requires it. Rejecting gossip, judgment, comparison or unhealthy conversations which don’t empower us or others. Choosing conversations which inspire and interest us, moving towards causes we care about, speaking up when we know we can add value instead of shying away.
Working together. In the pack. Supporting one another.
So what does that mean right now, for you? Can you think of an example where you’re hiding or not using your voice properly?
- Is there a conversation which you want to have, but you’re sticking your head in the sand?
- Are you being overlooked or passed by in your workplace, undervalued, domineered – is it time to stand up for yourself?
- Perhaps you know that you have a special gift to share with the world but you’re talking yourself out of it, putting yourself down, the thought of being visible sending you into paralysis.
- Are you tolerating unhealthy relationships and “friendships” with people you know don’t have your best interests at heart?
- Is your business floundering because you don’t have the confidence to show up, ask for the sale, speak on the stage, launch that YouTube channel or create the product which you know the world needs?
- What about the thing that wakes you up at 2am, the complex world problem which makes you cry big ugly tears, yet you feel helpless to do anything about (so you, literally, do nothing.)
Little things matter so don’t overthink it. This is our life’s work.
Practise makes perfect (well, not really, you know because perfectism is over-rated, right? But you take my point. Practise, notice it, celebrate it, practise it more. And on we go.)
P.S. If you enjoyed this blog, you can read my blogpost from last year “Your Beautiful Voice” here – similar topic, different angle.