“Say that again?” I heard Anne say to the person on the other end of the phone. Up until then, I wasn’t really paying attention as I don’t make a practice of eavesdropping.
Anne repeated back into the phone, “I hear you saying that you don’t speak up and express your point of view because you don’t expect to be heard. Is that correct?”
The answer must have been “yes” as I observed that Anne paused and took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Let’s think about that for a minute, Wanda. Remember, we get what we expect, so if you expect you will not be heard, you will be right. Similarly, if you expect to be heard, we will be heard.
“I do understand that this group of women can be intimidating, and several of the members are quite vocal in their opinions, which is why we need to hear from people like you. You are the expert on this issue. We don’t even know what we don’t know, and we need your help to put us on the right path.”
Anne paused while Wanda spoke, then she responded.
“You and I might not agree on how to approach this issue and that would stimulate good, healthy conversation – it would give the others permission to express their points of view too. We all need to be courageous and speak up!
“Through conversation, we learn. Listening to the experience and perspectives of others who bring a diversity of thought to the table is a very effective means of creating space for everyone to be heard and respected.
“Wanda, when you don’t speak up, you deny us access to your vast experience and expertise. You also rob us of the opportunity to have our positions challenged; to have our eyes open to the ways in which we need to make change.
“Please come to the meeting. Sit beside me and I will support you if necessary so that you are heard.”
Wanda must have agreed as the conversation came to an end.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Anne sighed and looked bit defeated as she answered, “Wanda is a highly respected leader in this area. She founded and leads, the institute that addresses the very issue we are dealing with; she is a recognized leader with many awards including a Governor General’s award, she has a post-graduate degree, teaches at respected universities, and her credentials go on!
“I have seen her speak from the podium to an audience of hundreds; watched her masterfully moderate panels and participate on panels too!
“Yet, she is fearful of using her voice to express her perspective in front of a group of women peers – well we are not even her peers actually.
“This is not the first time I have heard this story. There are women in this group who are recognized as international experts, who have received international awards, and yet are fearful of speaking up in a group of women. How can it be that in 2022, women are still not able to use their voices to speak up? We must still be brave and risk mistreatment by other women?
“I haven’t observed this reluctance to speak up with many men, although I have not been looking for it.”
Anne would be happy to see more women speaking up and I know she will be happy to be your cheerleader and mentor if you are feeling reluctant!