Find Your Voice and You Will Find Your Confidence in Self

"It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent." – Madeleine Albright

Watch a room fill up for a meeting and you will see the men confidently take a place at the table while many women will take a seat on the side as observers rather than participants.

Once the meeting gets started, you will  hear the male voices first. They take the lead, share the ideas, take control.

75% of meeting time is taken up by the men in the room according to a study done by Brigham Young and Princeton Universities!

A woman may have something to contribute but is often interrupted, spoken over, or ignored.

She may hear the idea she presented five minutes ago spoken by her male colleague, and she says nothing to respond to it.

Historically, women have been acculturated to be silent.

According to one of the first written law codes in 2,500BC “if a woman speaks out she should have her teeth smashed out with a brick!”

Women self-silence.

They may have been told:

  • It’s not safe to shine
  • Keep your opinions to yourself
  • Don’t brag
  • Who do you think you are?

They may feel:

  • I’m not good enough
  • I don’t deserve
  • I’m not worthy

If they tried and failed to be seen and heard there is a chance they were ridiculed or invisible

When any of these elements and more are present it’s often safer to stay silent.

Imagine another scenario.

The room is filled with women. They are energized, sharing ideas, defending their position, supporting the ideas of others, and generally supportive of each other.

There is an excitement to the conversation, and a genuine interest in what others have to say.

What if we could inspire more of this?

In a room full of men, even senior women professionals remain quiet.

They don’t contribute in the same way. They feel insecure and worry that their ideas will be rebuked or ignored.

Recently, I had the privilege to sit down with over 80 high-achieving women who shared with me where fear had limited their opportunity to take control of their career.

A considerable number of these women told me that in the early part of their career they had not spoken up in meetings for fear of criticism, or humiliation. They felt that their ideas would have been ignored, ridiculed or stolen from them.

They sat silent while their male counterparts took the lead even when they knew they were more competent and more experienced than them.

They had allowed self-doubt and intimidation to take control.

The practice of self-silencing in women is detrimental to careers, relationships and stops women from claiming full ownership and authority of their roles in life.

Women do not brag about their achievements.

They keep quiet believing it doesn’t serve them well.

Three clients have made the summit of Kilimanjaro. Only one of them speaks about her accomplishment publicly.

All of them have suffered with self-doubt and have minimized their achievements.

There are many reasons why we self-silence.

A lifetime habit of keeping your thoughts to yourself can result in losing the courage to speak up even when you know you are right.

A senior executive with over twenty years of experience told me recently that she had been promoted to SVP under the CEO. She is a smart, engaging, and compassionate woman with over twenty years’ experience who found herself being silent in executive meetings dominated by men.

She self-silenced because she wondered if she deserved to be there.

She wondered if she had enough credibility to match her male colleagues.

When the CEO approached her after a meeting, he asked why she didn’t contribute more.

She felt embarrassed and didn’t know what to say.

His response was this.

“You were promoted into this role because you deserve to be here. I personally chose you. Now consider this. If you were invited to my house for dinner and you didn’t eat the food I had carefully prepared for your enjoyment, would I invite you back again?

I invited you to my table here and I expect you to participate. I expect you to have a voice in the room. I expect you to have good ideas and share them confidently with everyone. You deserve to be here.”

Women frequently need permission to speak up.

Too many times they wait to be noticed, to be validated.

If you wait, you may wait a long time.  

Giving yourself permission to be in the room, to participate in the room, and to take up space in the room is an obligation all women need to claim.

What to do when you feel you are being silenced, or you silence yourself:

  • Practice in a safe environment with colleagues you trust.
  • When someone talks over you, interrupt and ask them to hold that thought while you share yours.
  • If you put forward and idea and no one reacts, and then five minutes or forty minutes later you hear your male colleague state the same idea, interrupt and thank them for sharing your idea, and ask if you can share more on what you were thinking.
  • Ask someone you trust to ask you a question in the room and share your thoughts.
  • If you are feeling unsure about your contribution because you don’t know if you deserve to be in the conversation, put it out there anyway, even when you are feeling super nervous.

Last thought for the day.

  • When you speak up you find a place in the world that is uniquely your own.
  • When you speak up your confidence says you are here because you matter.
  • When you speak up you have an impact that makes the world a better place.

Related: The Hidden Gift of Living With Fear, Anxiety and Uncertainty?