Despite growing attention on the need to increase female leadership in traditionally male-dominated industries, companies are still struggling to drive change. Having a seat at the table doesn’t matter if you don’t say anything when you’re there. In order to move the needle on building female leadership, we need to amplify female voices, argues Laura Jones, VP Strategy Director at BAVLab-A Y&R Consultancy.
This year at SXSW, Laura held an inspiring session, Women Speak Up: Using Your Voice to Get Ahead, to discuss why it's crucial for women to find their voice within the workplace and beyond. Laura stresed the need for women to speak up as influencers, take the stage at industry conferences, and build their profiles.
Case in point: Half of attendees at SXSW Interactive last year were women, yet they represented only 36% of speakers. It’s not that women aren’t here; they’re just not speaking up. What’s holding women back? Do the obstacles come from within or outside? And why is it important for women to get loud?
See a recap of Laura's talk below:
"I hope to inspire you all to action on a very important topic: getting more women to speak up at conferences such as these. There has never been a more important time for women to raise their voices.”
Where are all the women?
I asked a question to Nancy Hill, “Why is it that every time I go to conferences or panel conversations, there only men up there?”
She responded, “It’s not that I haven’t tried to get women up there, but every time I ask women they’re often really quick to say no. Or if they say yes, many times they cancel at the last minute.”
"Are we silencing ourselves? What’s going on here?"
- 30% or less of public speakers or authors of articles are written by women.
- At SXSW Interactive 2016, the attendees were split 50/50, but only 38% of speakers were women.
Why is this important?
"To move the needle on building female leadership, we need to amplify female voices."
- Conference speakers are equated as credible leaders. If they’re mostly men, what does that say about leadership?
- Having a seat a the table doesn’t matter if you don’t say anything when you’re there.
- The world landscape would be better if more women were in positions of power.
- 34% of companies experience higher revenue with more gender diversity.
- 69% of companies experience greater equity with more gender diversity.
- The average return on equity is 25% for companies with diverse corporate boards.
- Without gender diversity, the average return on equity is 9%.
Diverse points of view lead to innovation
"The places we create in need to look more like the world we create for.”
- Entry level women are significantly more likely than men to have spent five or more years in the same role at work.
- This matters because "when you’re in a slump, you’re not in for much fun. Unslumping yourself is not easily done.”
- Having a goal can go a long way to propelling you to the next level.
What’s holding women back?
"Are the barriers internal or external?"
There are many excuses for why there aren’t more women speakers:
However, just because they’re excuses doesn’t mean they’re not true. We need to understand the 'why' behind these.
- When interviewing men, logistics was the most often cited reason for why there aren’t more women speakers.
- Difficult to have flexibility as a woman if you don’t live near a support system.
- To get around this, offer to speak local. Start thinking about how you can build flexibility. If your kids are sick, ask your husband to stay home. If you’re a single mom, find a support system: friends, parents of children’s friends.
- "It takes a village. If you don’t have one, you need to build one."
- This responsibility should also be put on corporations. The state of how corporations plan for caregiving and deal with the logistics of two working parents needs to get better.
- Everyone is busy, including men.
- How far in advance are women asked to be speakers? Were they given enough time, or were they an afterthought?
- Everyone needs time to prepare, man or woman.
- Thinking needs to diverge before it can converge. It can take weeks, months, years before those ideas turn into something. Stay with it, keep those ideas circulating.
I Don’t Know Any Women
- Many conferences are programmed in an informal way. People call up friends, colleagues, or people they’ve done business with before. Typically, it’s a recommendation.
- Recommendation referrals favor males with shallow, but wide, networks.
- Women tend to network more deeply.
- Very valid and real.
- Goes for men and women.
- Fidel Frias spoke about how bullying and public speaking are related: "If you speak up when you’re bullied and you get made fun of, you learn to not speak up."
Societal Expectations and Norms
- Consider what subconscious messages and subtext exist.
- Hillary Alexandre said, “People are used to thinking of men as leaders and experts. That’s why women find it hard to speak up."
- Think back to the recent political debates. Trump constantly spoke over Hillary.
- Think about U.S Senator Elizabeth Warren getting cut off in Jeff Sessions debate and the message this sends.
- If we don’t say, “Hey this isn’t normal," then we aren’t doing our part to overcome this.
- The next time you think you’re shy, ask yourself “did you decide this or did someone else decide this for you?"
The Confidence Gap
- “I don’t have the credibility.”
- Lack of confidence.
- “You’re naturally uncomfortable with things you’re not used to.”
- "I felt bad, like shouldn’t my boss be doing this?”
- “Sometimes you get intimidated, everyone is so smart and knows what they’re talking about.”
- This is exacerbated by the fact that the women out speaking there are rockstars, amazing. But they’re the speaking equivalent of only seeing super skinny, pretty models in magazines. It’s unattainable.
- We need more everyday expert women speak up.
- "Push through physical pain, act in a way that feels unnatural to you."
- “Get past the fear and force yourself to do it.”
Fear of what??
- Fear of not being perceived as smart or well spoken.
- Fear that when expressing themselves, women aren’t seen as smart.
- Fear of being shot down.
- “What if people think I’m full of myself?”
Awareness is the First Step to Change
The more aware we can be that these things are happening, the more aware we can be when we hear the excuses, and challenge those excuses, the more aware we can be in taking steps to change.
Practical Tips and Advice
How Can You Speak Up?
- Need both push and pull strategies.
- Understand it’s not just you questioning yourself, everyone else goes through this.
Find Your Voice
- Reach out to thought leaders and prominent industry executives.
Find Your Purpose
- The strongest brands in our culture are also the most purposeful ones, ranking within the top 10% of the entire brandscape according to women.
Build Your Personal Board of Advisors
- You need people to bounce your ideas off of in a non-judgemental way.
- You need people to help you get through the “dark swamp of despair."
How to Make Your Own Luck - You can’t get what you don’t ask for
- Raise your voice within your organization.
- Find out if your company sponsors any conferences at the corporate level, and offer to speak.
- Make friends with the corporate comms people.
- Speak up in your community.
"When you get the opportunity, you have to blow people’s socks off.” - Alexis Glick, CEO GENYouth & media personality
How do you do that? Remember the Seven P’s
When You Get an Opportunity, Use Your Voice for Good, Not Evil
- Spread love and positivity.
- Unite people, don’t divide them.
Q: I’m always afraid my opinion is polarizing. If I put my ideas out in the world, it will affect how I’m perceived by company or people around me. Any thoughts on how to overcome that?
A: That’s a very real and honest feeling, especially in this age of social media. You need to develop an emotional callous. Throw away the idea of perfection.
Q: When you put ‘women' and ‘loud' in same sentence, it may have a negative connotation and be seen as aggressive or rude. How do you suggest combating that?
A: It’s about tone. It’s okay to have an opposing point of view, but do it in a way where you listen first,and are empathetic and understanding of those around you.
Q: Are you putting together a movement that we can all keep using?
A: It’s in the works, this was just the launching point. Tweet #BeLoudLady. Also, #AllMalePanels gets a lot of talk. Email me your success stories.
Q: Feminism shouldn’t be a stick to beat other women with. Have you had any experiences where other women have been catty towards you?
A: This is one thing that hinders women’s progress, thinking that because you got to where you am this way, that because you made sacrifices to rise through the ranks, that everyone behind you needs to do it the same way. “If you don’t do it the way I did it, then you can’t have this.” The current system of corporations is outdated, it was created in mad men era. As women, we need to support other women, and millennial men as well. They’re the next generation of leaders, we need to have relationships with them.
- Check out BYkids, which tells stories of children, by children, an underrepresented voice.
- Check out All In by Josh Levs.
- Take the panel pledge. Refuse to participate on all male panels.
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter: Women Speak Up: Using Your Voice to Get Ahead #BeLoudLady