Celebrate Women’s History Month . . .
Amplify Your Voice

Amplify Your VoiceFrom dealing with interruptions to having others take credit for your ideas or assume you are not the one in charge, gender bias is deeply ingrained and men and women alike tend to associate authority and expertise with men.

We sometimes make light of the experience with cleverly coined terms such as “mansplaining” where men spell out the obvious for women or “hepeat” where a man takes credit for an idea already raised by a woman but ignored. But the issues are real and research shows that men interrupt women far more often than they do other men. Even when women interrupt others, they are three times more likely to interrupt another woman.

But there are ways to raise your voice effectively on your own and with women working together to amplify one another.

Use your voice

Rosalind Brewer, the new CEO of Walgreens and former COO of Starbucks, had a key message when she addressed graduates at her all-female alma mater, Spelman College. She said, “stay steadfast” and “keep using your voice.”

Brewer is the only Black woman currently serving as a Fortune 500 CEO and only the third Black woman in history to do so. Thasunda Brown Duckett will become the second Black female Fortune 500 CEO when she takes the helm at TIAA, an investment company, in May.  “When you’re a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot,” Brewer says. “You get mistaken as someone who could actually not have that top job. Sometimes you’re mistaken for kitchen help. Sometimes people assume you’re in the wrong place.”

Women amplifying women

Senior women working in the Obama administration are credited with formalizing a technique of women working together to raise their voices. Frustrated by seeing male peers garner more attention in meetings and their ideas get legs more quickly, they launched an echoing and supporting technique they dubbed “amplification.”

The idea is simple and powerful. When a woman makes an important point or suggestion and it’s either ignored or immediately shot down, other women at the table repeat the first person’s idea, giving clear support and credit to its author and returning attention to the concept. You can apply the same principles in your work and with your female co-founders and colleagues.

Repeating and supporting someone else’s idea can give it more weight, as can highlighting her expertise. Women can do this for one another in a meeting with a bank, in presentations to investors, in brainstorming sessions with staff members and in negotiations. You might say something like, “What Linda said is critical. Our presence in this market segment is growing rapidly and her research shows we can expect that growth to accelerate this year.” You immediately put the spotlight back on Linda’s contribution.

Being interrupted, talked over, shut down or penalized for speaking out is something nearly every woman has experienced, especially in situations where they are outnumbered by men, a common occurrence in business, leadership and the start-up space. In addition to working with other women to amplify your own and their voices, consider these ideas fellow founders shared on Women/Entrepreneur on how they make themselves heard.

  • Stop qualifying your opinions before sharing them. State your ideas clearly rather than prefacing them with phrases that weaken such as, “Maybe it would work if . . .” or “Do you think we might consider . . .”
  • Speak your audience’s language. Consider whether the person or group you’re speaking to wants to hear financials, product and service specifics or about relationships you have built with customers or the community and focus your messaging there.
  • Use clear goals and KPIs as a framework to describe improvements and highlight your success and impact.
  • Provide proof with clear statistics and facts about your business and its performance, as well as the expertise of you and your team.
  • Secure informal endorsements from respected professionals in your industry who can shine a light on your business and introduce you to others.
  • Do your homework so important facts are at your fingertips and you feel confident as you press your point.
  • Literally raise your voice to account for women’s voices sometimes being softer than men’s and to garner attention right from the start.

Finally, remember the advice Brewer shares most often with women on the rise. “Use your voice.” As she told the young female graduates at Spelman, “Sometimes we use our voices by saying, ‘We belong here, get used to us.’”