Encountering gender inequality at work shouldn’t be a full stop.
Women are more acutely aware than ever when we encounter sexism. The question is how do we react? It’s time we get out of the emotional patterns that cause us to lose our power, and instead, rewire our brains to see these as ripe opportunities for change.
Anger is venom that breaks us down, a voice gives power to lift us. Especially as a collective.
Finding your voice is the first step to changing a potentially disheartening experience into one that empowers you and also creates change in the environments or workplaces you are in.
I started out as a feminist ignited by anger. I’m not denying that it’s a powerful force. The injustice of seeing women treated as less valuable than men was enough to make my blood boil. As a young girl I witnessed gender inequality from religion and social structures and I acutely remember the emotions it brought up for me. I made it my mission to speak up and speak out, but it didn’t always work for me.
Because anger has an edge that hurts the holder. In opening ourselves to anger when we’re faced with injustice, we are hurting ourselves. If we can shift that internal pattern from an emotional reaction to an empowered place of voice — we can make change without damaging ourselves.
True feminism is a voice for equality and change rather than an outrage of injustice. When we see the value in ourselves, we can share that vision with others.
After years of letting my anger burn inside of me, I had the privilege of a retreat with a coach, who showed me the difference between feeling empowered with voice, rather than using the sword of anger to try and make a change. It was a huge eye-opener for me.
Often we think the fire of anger is the greatest power, but there is a greater power — and that’s having a voice coming from a place of deep, personal value.
How can we bring this into our work place, when we see sexism right in front of us? How can we make change without inflicting pain on ourselves and others?
The number one piece of advice I can give is: Know your value. Believe it to your core.
Studies show that women often underestimate their own abilities, which holds us back from taking on the challenges that help any of us achieve to our potential.
Sometimes this means taking an analytical approach to your own personal value. Taking the time to assess your skills and contribution on paper is a practice I highly recommend. Furthering that study with a comparative analysis of your industry can also be eye-opening, even if you’re not negotiating a contract or raise. Knowing your value in a company will help you speak up and “own your seat” at the table.
In the heat of the moment, ie: when a sexist comment is made in your office, right in front of you, giving yourself permission to speak up is your greatest gift. Trying to ignore it, hold back your thoughts and do nothing is damaging to not only you but your environment.
Small acts of speaking up at the moment will give you more strength. Saying “You know, that’s kind of inappropriate, or that makes me uncomfortable because ….can you think of another way to say that without…” This approach seems passive, but the value in it is it doesn’t invite an immediately defensive response. It’s voice without anger which helps open the conversation.
And if you see a pay discrepancy, instead of stewing about it in your private thoughts and with your girlfriends… here’s what worked for me as far as asking for a raise without crying.
And finally, the most effective strengthener for your own courage in speaking up and speaking out is realizing you’re not alone. Join groups of Women in Tech, women with your same struggles and beliefs. When you feel alone in speaking up, you lose your courage and momentum. Movements happen when they are part of a collective.
One voice = fanatic, 3 voices = collective opinion. Finding allies matters and even if that is just online, it helps. Read articles of other women in your same position. Read articles of companies making a difference. All of this is here to help you in your place, right now.
And one more thing, I’ll share a poem I wrote, right after that realization of the power of voice rather than anger. It still comes back to remind me, every now and then.
(written in Ireland, summer 2014)
Oh, to be driven
by a voice
By a fountain
rather than a fire
By calm, steady rolling waves
then by a searing sword
By deep belief and love
No cutting and cursing
A courageous walk forward
rather than fighting
Angers’ venom is no match
for the inner power
of a soul at peace.