Why Women Don’t Speak

why women don't speak
The Big Question

Where are the voices of women?

I’m part of pretty awesome women’s group, and one of the women wrote this yesterday:

“I’m a pretty avid reader (and writer) of Medium.com, and lately, I just keep seeing more + more articles by male entrepreneurs, writers, and leaders. So I was wondering, are any of you writing your story, learnings, how to’s, and if so, can you share your Medium profile? I would love to read more from the female perspective + support those who are also writing on there.”

Thanks to her speaking up, here I am writing this article.

Thanks to her speaking up, I will re-commit to writing more.

I thank her, truly for asking this very important question.

Where are the women’s voices? Or more importantly, why aren’t they speaking?

Falling Behind

I used to be a writer [anyone feel me on that?]

Not only because I once wrote a consistent blog called Observing Ourselves Observing (now deleted) but I’ve written articles that were published in literary journals. I still write poetry on twitter 🙂

But actual writing, I havent done that in a while. The intention is there but the answers, aka excuses and reasonings, are myriad.

  1. I’m falling behind on the things I need to get done .. do I need to add more to my plate?
  2. I am supposed to be writing on my career focus topics (leadership), so my introspective writing seems like an irresponsible use of my time.
  3. A strong reasoning: I am afraid of backlash from people who don’t agree with me — not constructive criticism or diverse perspectives but name-calling or viciousness that are delivered under the guise of ‘their-truth’. [Women experience a higher-level of harassment online then men for sure — just see Tracy Chou’s troll brigade
  4. An even stronger reasoning: Am I even heard? Do people care? (proven below .. so read on)

Then I got thinking, well, what are other women experiencing?

Why are they being silent? What is the cost of not speaking?

So I started digging.

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What It Takes For Women To Be Heard

Brigham Young Univeristy (BYU) did some research on what it takes for a woman to truly be heard

THE EXPERIMENT

The researchers were Christopher F. Karpowitz, a a political-science professor and nationally recognized expert on group gender dynamics, and Preece and economics professor Olga Stoddard who run a gender think tank at BYU, the Gender and Civic Engagement Lab.

They examined the female experience in a top-10, predominately male collegiate accounting program — a program where the women, overall, enrolled with higher GPAs and more leadership experience than their male peers.

The students moved through the program in teams. So, the question became – who do we best build teams and ensure there is diversity within the teams .. perhaps, distribute the women out evenly, right?

RESULT

The final outcome was that the program decided NOT to EVER put a woman alone on a team of men again. Why?

Women speak up less when they are outnumbered.

Perhaps the most important point is this:

For women, having a seat at the table does not mean having a voice.

Bam! There you have it!!

Now, remember my own doubt #4 of ‘Am I even heard? Do people even care?” Here’s proof — just to say that it’s not always in our heads. There’s a reason why the seed of doubt is planted. The researchers found that “women are systematically seen as less authoritative, and their influence is systematically lower. And they’re speaking less. And when they’re speaking up, they’re not being listened to as much, and they are being interrupted more.”

If women are systematically seen as less authoritative, then that’s systematic oppression. A way to forcibly take away the power of the female voice.

The problem with systematic oppression is that it becomes normative, and people rarely question it or even see it as a problem. In fact, the dissenters are seen as the problem.

A Scarf Of One Color

Many studies indicate that in mixed groups, men dominate the discussion; one piece of research found that men account for 75% of conversation to women’s 25%.

But did you hear the story of how the Montreal borough mayor Sue Montgomery brought this 75/25 into a tangible thing? She began knitting a scarf whose colors reflected the speaking time taken up by male councillors (red yarn) and female councillors (green yarn) in council meetings. Yes, by the end it was a largely red scarf.

Why Women Don’t Speak

According to Nicola Browne and Renata Cuk, 2018–19 Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity, women have a checklist they go over before they want to say something, and it goes like this:

  • Should I say something
  • Perhaps I should wait to hear others speak first.
  • What if I don’t have a relevant point to make?
  • I wonder if everyone will think I don’t have an opinion on this issue if I don’t speak up.
  • Ok, I’m going to speak — but how should I frame this to make sure I don’t sound stupid?

There’s a reason why women doubt themselves — and that perhaps is the crux of the matter. The researchers conclude:

The ability to speak with authority is a form of privilege.

As someone who’s struggled with a speech impediment when I was child, and growing up in a culture where women’s voices weren’t allowed to be heard, I have had to do a lot of work on this aspect, so I understand this intimately.

Speaking, and the latitude to express one’s views, is a form of privilege.

I am positive there are many women out there who also resonate with this statement. All the acculturation is not an easy task to undo.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Awareness is always the starting point, and raising awareness even more so.

Men can become cognizant of making allowances for women to have more air-space. Women need to start risking a bit more, knowing that it is ok to go through that check list and still speak up.

Understanding that this whole dynamic is a result of systemic oppression, and a privilege, maybe we can find ways to address it — within ourselves and outwardly.

We can support each other by creating spaces for female voices and diverse experiences to be heard. This is one of the reasons I started Women Leaders Rising with leadership programs focused to address issues specific to women professionals, where the participants have a space to gather in community and practice using their voice.

Most importantly, even if you’ve lagged on writing or speaking or standing up, or if you’ve never started .. it is never too late.

Today is the best day to do so.

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