Finding Our Voices
Women’s struggle to find their “voice” pervades the three waves of feminism. During the first wave, women fought just to have their voices heard at all in political and social spheres. Second wave feminism found women advocating for their rights and voicing their ambitions to engage in market work, not just family work. In this current wave, women strive, with mixed results, to be the voices of leadership in our professions and workplaces. When it comes to women’s voices being equally heard in the legal profession, I think most would agree that we are not there yet. So why is that and what can we do to change it?
I bet we’ve all listened to women apologize for something they said or did, whether they really meant it or not or whether the situation really warranted an apology. (I know I’ve been guilty of doing that.) In a New York Times opinion piece entitled Why Women Apologize and Should Stop, the author discusses the theories on our “sorrys,” and suggests that women often apologize for things that are clearly not our fault as a prompt for the person who actually should be apologizing. She contends that women give “assertive apologies” that are too indirect and come off as a passive- aggressive. She urges us to stop.
In a Huffington Post blog, Women’s Voices: Are They Fully Heard?, the author suggests four challenges that keep women’s voices from being fully heard in the U.S. corporate world: women’s style of speech sounds less confident; women don’t assert themselves until they feel they really know what they are speaking about; women get “talked over;” and women who speak up are penalized. The author’s goal is to create awareness of these so-called “challenges” (which smack of gender bias) so that women’s voice can be heard loud and clear.
And why do successful and ambitious women sometimes fail to assert themselves in high-level meetings? The authors of a Harvard Business Review article entitled Women, Find Your Voice addressed that question in a research study involving 1,100 female executives at or above the vice president level. Their article discusses their findings and provides advice on what women can do to become more effective and more comfortable in meetings such as mastering the “pre-meeting,” preparing to speak spontaneously, maintaining an even keel, and moving past confrontation without taking it personally.
Women lawyers all want their voices to be heard. So here are four practical steps towards that end that I challenge us all to try over the next 21 days (the time it takes to create a new habit): 1) stop apologizing; 2) don’t allow others to interrupt you- keep talking; 3) prepare to speak at meetings and then speak confidently; and 4) don’t become defensive or uncomfortable when others disagree with you. Despite how far we have come, when it comes to women having their voices equally valued in our profession, we are definitely still “chasing the last wave.” Let’s resolve to raise our voices above the waves until we are at last fully heard.
This blog post was authored by Molly Tami. Molly Tami serves as the Assistant Dean for Career & Professional Development at USD School of Law. She previously designed and taught a course on Law, Gender and the Work/Family Conflict and is passionate about advancing women in the legal profession.