Flashback to a conference room table. Seven men, two women sitting side-by-side, and a presenter are gathered as a professional peer group. Introductions are being made by the leader of the group. He starts with the man next to him, says his name, his company, and what he does. He then proceeds to the first woman, says her name, that she is the girlfriend and better half of her boyfriend, and moves on to the next woman to introduce her as the better half of her husband. He moves on through the rest of the group, introducing each man and including their company and skill-set.
The second woman is older and more experienced, and the introductions of her colleagues is starting to be drowned out by the blood rushing to her ears and her inner voice is saying, “This is wrong.” while the voice of doubt chimes in, “Maybe I heard that wrong or am overreacting.” supporting the voice of society whispering, “I don’t want to sound bitchy.”
Things come back around to the group leader who is preparing to have the presenter speak. “Excuse me.” says the older woman. “I’d like to take just a moment to make sure our presenter has the same background information about everyone at the table.” The ocean sound in her head has cleared with only one voice remaining. She proceeds to share the professional profile of the young woman next to her as well as her own. When she’s done, she smiles, says thank you, and gestures to proceed. No anger, no fist pounding, no name calling. It just needed to be done.
Afterward, the older woman is talking to a male colleague from the group and asks if he noticed the skewed introductions. Nope. Again, the heat rises in her ears in a combination of disbelief, frustration, and anger. Maybe she should have been more forceful, more obvious, and more blatant so that the oversight and correction would be noticed! But someone did notice.
Flash forward to six months after the meeting, the young woman asks the older woman to coffee. They know one another better now, and consider themselves to be friends. The coffee is casual, but the younger woman seems to have something specific she wants to talk about. “Do you remember that meeting?” she asks, describing the day of the sexist introductions. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. I questioned my own sanity and didn’t know what to say or do. And then you spoke up for us. It woke me up to what happens to women every day, that what I’m experiencing IS real, as well as what I can do about it. I can speak up for myself, and others. Gracefully. Tactfully. But definitely, and without apology.” So, while the older woman was fuming over the fact that the men in the room had not noticed, the person who mattered – who would go forward, listen to her own inner voice from that point forward, affect change, and do the same for others – did.
One of thousands
This is one of thousands of stories women experience every day. Opportunities to support other women. Our colleagues, our friends, our daughters of birth or of our heart. Sometimes they are as unconscious as how you conduct yourself. Other times, they are as intentional as reaching out and lifting up through mentoring, volunteering, advocating, or having a work-place strategy like the women of the White House. They all start with trusting your own inner voice, then navigating the jungle of doubt, judgement, and crazy makers to use that voice in speaking up for ourselves and others.
What have you done or experienced in finding, listening and then acting upon your inner voice? What stories do you have? What wisdom can you share? Speak up! Comment on this post or submit your stories at our website. We’re listening, and we hear you.