Do you own your voice? Speak up when you should?
Every year I try to write a post to mark International Women’s Day and this year is no different. Although, truth be told, I didn’t feel excited about speaking out on any of the issues that affect women. Not even the gender pay gap that limits some of my clients. (Did you know that women at age 50 earn 23% less than men? And that this gap gets even wider at age 60?).
In any case, I have heard all the stories about women getting stopped by the invisible glass ceiling. I’ve written about “Breaking the Bias” – this year’s official International Women’s Day theme – so often it feels like a broken record. So I put off writing about it.
Then a war broke out in the Ukraine. And I wondered, would it be heartless to write about the biases that affect women like you and I? Especially when there are heartbreaking things happening to millions of innocent people?
Over 1.5 Million people (many of whom women and children) found themselves homeless just 10 days into the war. Many will be too traumatised to think about much else other than surviving for the sake of their children and the people they left behind.
Is history repeating itself?
For me these recent events are a little too close to home. My father’s family, his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all became displaced at the end of WW2 losing their homes, belongings and each other. After 5 years of hardship and with the help of the Red Cross, my grandmother was finally reunited with her mother and my father in the West.
At the time they had no idea where everyone else was. Nor that my grandfather was ill and stuck in East Germany. Sadly, he passed away alone during one particularly cold winter. I will never forget the pain in my grandmother’s eyes when she spoke of her tough journey and not seeing her beloved husband again. Their story was just one of many other similar wartime stories.
Growing up in a divided Germany during the Cold War meant learning that life as we knew it could change in the blink of an eye. Yet, in all honesty, I had never experienced the kind of fear I felt just recently. Witnessing a country not so far away being under brutal attack does feel like history repeating itself!
Our values and beliefs matter
When stories broke of racial discrimination of refugees at the borders my fear mixed with anger. I seriously wonder if the world is even remotely ready to accept people who are different to us as equals. Why can’t we pull together to create a world without conflict that spares innocent victims’ suffering? Superiority and inequality in any context should not be tolerated in the 21st century.
It took anger and frustration to remind me of some of the values that I am passionate about.
Now I did want to write this post! Though perhaps not quite how I intended…
- What are your values?
- What is so important to you that when threatened makes you feel deeply unhappy?
- When are you denying your values?
- Or are they so close to your heart that you can’t help but stand up for them when you can?
You, your values and your beliefs influence your voice. Your voice is yours alone and very powerful!
Own your voice – you aren’t powerless
A sentence on the International Women’s Day site caught my attention. “Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.”
An important reminder for when you might feel fearful or powerless about your own situation or someone else’s.
There are always things in your control, even if your actions may be more limited, like mine. As someone with a chronic illness I have to put boundaries in place to protect my health. So I could think, “I want to help the refugees but I am limited” and leave it at that. Just as someone else might want to help but they have no experience, no time or no money.
If a female colleague tries to speak upon a meeting but gets cut off repeatedly you might think, “I’d like to help her but I’ll leave it to the others, they are more eloquent (or confident) than I”.
There is another way
Imagine what might happen to your thoughts if the word “but” didn’t exist!
“But” taps into your negative thinking. You know when a close friend or your partner says, “I like your outfit, but….” Everything that follows renders the positive part of the sentence rather meaningless.
So instead of thinking, “I want to help but I can’t” try thinking, “I want to help. What can I do?”
It is far more empowering to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t. There are lots of things we can do. Even if seems very little at the time. You may not be able to donate money or time, but you can own your voice and use it too. You are not powerless.
Breaking the silence can break biases too
Breaking the silence is important in our personal and work environments too. Having co-hosted 13 empowering International Women’s Day events in the last 15 years, I know women’s stories. About the barriers we face, the limitations that are placed on us, even those we set ourselves.
I may not need to give you examples of women feeling invisible, undervalued or disadvantaged in the world of work. It is likely you have experienced some of that yourself.
What do you think and do when it happens to you or a colleague? Do you go quiet in meetings?
It can make you feel safer and less visible on one hand. On the other it can be quite disempowering.
Turn “I can’t ” into “I can” to own your voice
I know that in some situations it feels too risky to speak up. If you feel that way too often, a good idea is to observe your thoughts. Where has the “but” word become an inner obstacle to sharing your voice?
You want to start noticing the opportunities where you can advocate better for yourself or someone else. Start to replace “but I can’t do that” with “I can” and “I can be like that”.
Remember we are all on the same journey, so when you see someone else making that change, try to support and help them too. Together we get stronger!
You can speak up so easily with your blog. Your blog can be proof that you’re not alone with your views, beliefs and your story.
And interestingly, not everyone needs a huge audience to feel heard. My motto is that if just one person feels inspired by something I say, whether on my blog or in a room full of people, then I have achieved my aim to get the ball rolling. To make a difference.
What does getting heard mean to you?
Please own your voice. You only have the one. It is never worth keeping what matters in your head.