Why women need to speak up and be heard

I was recently asked to address a group of women on the topic of professional growth. I started by asking them what they expected from the session. To my surprise, there was complete silence. That’s when I decided to talk about the importance of ‘Speaking Up’. I narrated how my professional life changed when I started to speak up. And by the end of the talk, I managed to get them to participate.

A few months later, one of those women reached out to thank me. She said she took my advice and started to speak up in meetings. Within a few weeks, she got noticed by her management and was given additional responsibilities. And by the time she wrote to me, she was selected for a high profile international assignment and was thrilled beyond measure.

Why is it important for women to speak up?

In a societal context, we have a right to speak up for ourselves in the free world and when we do not use it, we give up our power and freedom. We also have a responsibility to speak up for equality and fairness in society. The freedom we enjoy today, is a result of the voice of women who fought for our rights. And the onus is on us to do the same for the next generation of women.

Even at the workplace, it is extremely important for us to speak up for the following reasons:

You may be the smartest person in the room, but no one will know unless you speak up and share your ideas

You may have a novel perspective that could add value to the discussion and it is a loss to the team if you do not share it

If you are not seen to be adding value during meetings, people might stop inviting you and you would miss out on important discussions

If you do not share your opinion while a decision is being made, you will need to live with it and may end up regretting not speaking

Management tends to notice people who contribute to discussions, present unique perspectives and novel ideas. By not speaking up, you lose out on opportunities for visibility and acclaim

If you do not speak up and ask for something, whether it is a promotion, a high-profile assignment or a job role, you’re most likely not going to get it

Why is it difficult for us to speak up?

Have you ever been in situations where you had a brilliant idea or knew the correct answer to a question, but shied away from speaking up? How did it feel when someone else in the room gave the answer and got applauded for it? Did you regret not saying it then? I had to go through many such situations before I finally decided to start speaking up.

So why is it that some of us find it difficult to speak up? It could either be because we are inherently shy or because we fear rejection or ridicule. Having faced this personally, let me assure you that these fears are unfounded. Firstly, it is highly likely that your idea is truly brilliant and you’re losing out by not sharing it. And secondly, even if is not a great idea, no one will remember it beyond the meeting. All they will remember is that you participated in the discussion. So please, go ahead and speak up.

Now that you’ve resolved to speak up more often, here are a few things you could do to get started:

Prepare for meetings: Always make time to prepare for a meeting/session. Find out the agenda, go through the meeting content and prepare talking points. Pay attention to the discussion and make notes during the meeting too.

Be the first to speak: When it is time for interaction, try to be the first person to talk. Usually, people are afraid to go first, so use that lull to make your point. Once you make your first point, you will gain the confidence and courage to speak again during the meeting.

Network with your colleagues: Spend time networking with your colleagues and management. When you know them and have interacted with them in an informal setting, it becomes easier to interact with them in formal meetings.

Resolve to speak at least once in every meeting: Start with a resolution to speak at least once in every meeting. If you have nothing new to say, try to build on a point that someone else made. And if all the points have already been covered, you could summarize the discussion and offer to draft the minutes of the meeting.

If you make a consistent effort to speak up in at least five meetings, it will begin to come naturally to you. And once you’ve mastered the art of speaking up, please make it a point to help someone else find their voice. Tell them to be prepared in advance and ask for their opinion during the meeting. Encourage them and appreciate their inputs, so that it gives them the courage and confidence to participate going forward.

Let me sign off with a quote:

“Women speaking up for themselves and for those around them is the strongest force we have to change the world” — Melinda Gates