Mainstreet Women’s Stories: Learning to Speak Out, Stand Up

When I asked Mainstreet Women about speaking out and standing up it wasn’t because I’d love to see us all running around unfiltered, saying everything that pops into our minds. Clearly, the world would be a noisier and (even) less civilized place to live in if we did. I expected women to tell me there had been times when they wished they’d spoken up, stood up – that’s human, that’s me too.

But from our Main Street perches of tremendous (consumer and citizen) power, within our nation that takes great pride in “free speech,” we’re not satisfied. We see social injustices, we worry for future generations, we’re struggling because of longstanding pay inequity, living with unequal power and responsibility at work and often, at home.

Inequality is a fact of life in the U.S. and so is this:  when women lead, the world improves. Yep, there’s scientific proof. Check out Dr. Amanda Nimon Peters’ stunning, short presentation that convincingly makes the case for women leading because families, companies, and countries benefit:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCHBID8If-g

Speaking out and standing up are integral to leading, to making this world a better place. And, research tells us that we women sacrifice over half a million dollars over our careers by not speaking, not asking for higher salaries when we accept our very first ‘adult’ job. So I had to know:  What’s stopping us? How do we learn to speak out and stand up?

WHAT STOPS US it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are

Has there ever been a time when you didn’t speak up or stand up for something or someone and wished you had? If so, what stopped you?  Almost every woman shared at least one story about not speaking out or standing up at some point in their lives. Here’s what three highly educated, accomplished Mainstreet Women said.

There have been multiple times when I’ve stopped myself from speaking up or standing up. What stopped me was fear. Fear of criticism, fear of being ostracized, fear of being wrong, fear of being judged, fear of stepping outside the norm. (Kate, MN)

There have been millions of times I didn’t speak up. I was always second-guessing myself and feeling doubt. I hesitated because I didn’t think I was qualified or didn’t think I was the best. (Marjorie, DC)

Many times my ego stopped me. I’m not talking about being conceited when I say ego, but the separation between fear and ego kept me in one place. The fear thoughts that stopped me? Needing to be liked, not to rock the boat, wanting to move up, wanting to look good to my boss or others. (Maria, AZ)

GROWING AS LEADERS

The overwhelming majority of women, including Kate, Marjorie and Maria, told me that as they gained experience and maturity, their ability to speak out and stand up grew. Mastery over fear, conscience choice to speak and accept the consequences may, in part, be a matter of growing into who we really are.

Although we’re justifiably dissatisfied by the unequal status of women in our country, I feel optimistic when I reflect upon the stories of everyday heroism I heard from women across America. Their stories teach us powerfully about speaking out and standing up.

JEANNIE’S STORY:   NOT SPEAKING CATALYZED LIFELONG COMMITMENT

In high school I was part of the Rainbow Girls, the group for daughters of Masons. I was being made the “worthy advisor,” which is the leader role, and having my installation Segregation sign in U.S.(ceremony). Masons were segregated at the time, and I had a librarian I loved at my school who was also Black. I invited her to my installation because I didn’t think it was to be a segregated event. They told me that I had to disinvite her – and I did. To this day I regret it, I regret not speaking out against something I knew was plainly wrong. I should have done that and given up my office if they would not agree.

Thirty-three years later I tracked her down. I got to go and talk with her, got to apologize. I had been carrying this weight and she didn’t even remember it had happened. I cried, apologized. She had stayed so kind and gracious to me the rest of the school year after I disinvited her. This happened when I was 16 and I was afraid to speak out, stand up for her and to have moral integrity. I was afraid of cancelling the big event and speaking up against authority. When I told her she couldn’t come, it was soul crushing.

Since then, I haven’t been afraid to speak up. This changed my path completely and I advocate for Civil Rights and equality. I know this is why I feel so strongly about civil rights for all people. (Jeannie, NC)

JANINE’S STORY:  INDEPENDENT STUDY REQUIRED — GIRLS NEED TO BE TAUGHT THIS  

There have been multiple times I haven’t spoken up or stood up for myself even though I was instilled with more confidence than most at an early age. Into my 20s and mid-20s, I did not have the confidence that what I had to say would be taken seriously. Partly it was the times. Things were different and have changed quickly, dramatically. I have worked in industries that are predominantly men and there has been a dynamic of intimidation. Things are more integrated now.

When I was the young, new girl in many places, men wanted me at business lunches because it looked good to have me there. It was disheartening and took me a long time to see it was girl in schoolonly me that could change that.

First I began to speak up as an afterthought, apologizing for my thoughts and not supporting them or bringing people along. Then, I became a student of it, how to persuade people and look at and understand their points of view. You have to expose your point of view, recognize its value, explain the risks and the challenges, and support your position, why it is best for the outcome wanted. Your point of view may be better, quicker, but speaking up is the biggest challenge.

Girls are not taught this and they need to be.  (Janine, CT)

CHOICE & CONSEQUENCES

Last week, a 16-year old Russian girl wrote an open letter to President Putin in her blog, criticizing his decision to ban adoptions by Americans. Natasha Pisarenko is blind and has now attracted worldwide attention with her blog, including lots of attention in Russia. On Saturday, Natasha wrote, “Probably, I will regret that I wrote what I think.”

Speaking out is a choice that can come with a price. Fortunately we’re not Natasha. Here, we typically fear embarrassment rather than imprisonment.

Janine, you’re right — girls ought to be taught this. Let’s go!

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