How to Be Heard and Help Other Women Be Heard
“Women don’t need to find their voices,” said Meghan Markle at a recent charity forum. “They have voices. They need to feel empowered to use it and people need to be encouraged to listen.”
PREACH. HANDS. UP.
Women need to feel empowered to use their voices, and people need to be encouraged to listen.
Ain’t that the truth?
I should know.
I’ve spend most of my career in rooms filled with middle-aged white men. Have I learned a lot? Yes. Has it come naturally to me? Absolutely not.
And despite the progress we’ve made — and continue to make — I know so many smart, talented women whose contributions still aren’t being heard.
So, enough I say. Enough. Enough. Enough. Here’s everything I know about speaking up and being heard. Because we need your voice in the room.
MAKE SPEAKING UP THE RULE, NOT THE EXCEPTION
I know what it’s like to worry that your voice is going to suddenly break like a teenage boy’s, or that you’re going to say the wrong thing, or suddenly have brain freeze and say nothing at all. I know.
But do you think Shonda Rhimes built Shondaland by staying silent? NO, SIR!
The key is to start small, my friend. I’m talking a few sentences per meeting to begin with, just to get comfortable with the sound of your own voice in a corporate setting. You don’t have to say much, but promise yourself you’ll say something.
Ask questions. Assert yourself, one small sentence at a time. Work your voice like a muscle. See how it gets stronger with every meeting.
APPLY THE ‘RISING TIDE’ MENTALITY TO EVERY MEETING
This is the single greatest lesson of my career to date:
If you’re in a meeting and another woman gets interrupted, encourage her to finish what she was saying: “Hey, can we just finish hearing what Lizzie was saying?”
If you’re in a meeting and a woman makes a great point that goes unacknowledged, circle back to it: “Wait, I think Jessica made a brilliant point earlier.”
If you’re in a meeting and another woman hasn’t had a chance to speak, bring her into the conversation: “Gemma, it’d be awesome to get your thoughts on the project!”
Repeat, repeat, repeat. We all need allies. Let’s be each other’s.
MAKE NO APOLOGIES — LITERALLY OR FIGURATIVELY
Seriously. Quit apologising for your presence, for your voice, or for your opinion.
Ditch the “sorry, but…”, the “justs…”, the “… if that makes sense”. GIRL, it makes sense, you have nothing to be sorry for and you don’t have to make yourself smaller.
SEEK OUT MULTIPLE MENTORS— MALE AND FEMALE
Confession: I don’t subscribe to the conventional ‘find a mentor’ advice that’s often dished out. What I do believe in, however, is the power in having MULTIPLE mentors in every area of your life. And, more to the point, I believe mentoring often works best as an informal, one-off thing.
You see, learning from men, as well as women, isn’t just advisable, but essential.
A few years ago, I worked with a forty-something American man who was famously articulate without being aggressive. At first, I found him intimidating. I was 23, after all. But over time, I decided to view working with him as an opportunity to learn. “Can we grab a coffee when you’re next in town?” I wrote to him one day. “As someone I look up to, I’d love to discuss my career path with you and learn some tips on how to present better.”
He ended up teaching me most of what I’ve shared in this post. If given the opportunity, people nearly always want to help. Let them.
REPRESENT YOURSELF. REPRESENT OTHER WOMEN.
If you don’t fairly represent yourself in the workplace, who will? If we, as women, don’t fairly represent each other in the workplace, who will?
This life is too short to be silent. We need your voice in the room.