Being a Woman is Not an Afterthought
I went to a leadership conference a few weeks ago and walked away refreshed, ambitious, and with a heightened level of awareness of my goals. Imagine a Ted-talk style conference with dozens of speakers. For this conference, several business partners and husbands and wives spoke in pairs. After a couple of sessions passed, I noticed the women spoke first, followed by their husbands. I thought to myself maybe it was just a few couples and how their styles were, but at the end of the conference, every single speech started with the wife speaking and ended with the husband. The truth is, what that meant to me was the man had the final word and the wife, was the introduction or the starting. At the end of the conference, the women’s words, thoughts, opinions were an afterthought.
Maybe some of you reading this, don’t see it that way. No worries, read on. At the same conference, one of the male speakers introduced his speech by sharing what some notable leaders had in common. He asked the audience, what do Steve Jobs, Tom Brady, and a few other males had in common? Under my breath, I whispered, uh they are only men? He went on to say they have shaped their industries with their leadership and stamp on the world. I was perplexed. How were women excluded from that list? Could he not include a single female leader? Again, it affirmed my conclusion. It’s not that women were excluded from the entire weekend or they didn’t have their moments on stage, it’s that women were afterthoughts. They were not the headline speakers or main examples. They were runner-ups compared to the male leaders in the room.
Now, put yourself in my shoes. Think about the last public speaking event you went to. Or the last meeting you had at work. Was there a female keynote speaker? Was the story of a female leader the main example? Did your boss use “he” in a hypothetical example and then quickly followed it up with an “mhm or she”? Women share parts of the overall conversation, but they aren’t leading it. Why is that so?
Inherently people advocate for things that matter to them. Men advocate for other men and women advocate for other women. The part of the conversation that can’t go unnoticed is that if women are going to headline more speeches and be mentioned more often among the ranks of impressive male leaders, more women need to advocate for other women, and more men need to advocate for other women. I ask myself, what if one of the wives called out the inconsistency and advocated for herself to lead the speech on behalf of the pair? What if more women stood up when they noticed a gap in the culture of their class, office, or organization? What if the male speaker that named only male leaders recently celebrated Women’s International Day with his wife and learned of women that have made differences in Technology and Business? If more men and women chose to go against the grain, step out of their comfort zones, expanded their knowledge, and advocated for those, not in the spotlight, there would be no afterthoughts.