I was asked recently if I’m a feminist. How was I to reply to that I wondered? Was a feminist a good thing: someone who believed passionately, and was prepared to stand up for, equality between the genders, or a bad thing: someone who was aggressive in their beliefs and not prepared to listen to others? What sort of feminist did this person have in mind – since they are hardly one breed – and was it a trick question anyway?
Some people make gender issues their ‘thing’ and I support them in that. In days gone by it was something I wrote and spoke about a lot. I know what I believe and I will stand up for that strongly, but nowadays I have other concerns that occupy my thinking time. Nonetheless I am still acutely aware that I spend most of my work time in contexts that are very male dominated and that presents its challenges (sometime I will be the only woman in a meeting). So I was interested to read this blog from Naomi Simson, founder of Australian company Red Balloon, giving three tips to young women starting out in business. As I recognised myself in them all, it struck me that it’s not just young women who need to hear this…
1. Don’t be afraid to speak out
It is always scary to generalise, but I notice – particularly in larger contexts – that it will be predominantly men who are confident enough to contribute and it takes a longer time for the women to begin to feel that they can say something. Simson makes the point that there’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘Excuse me, let me jump in here.’” It is not being pushy to speak up for yourself.
This is something I know I’ve had to learn how to do. One of the things that has helped me has been learning (slowly) that I have something unique to bring. The fact that I may be thinking differently to what everyone else is saying does not mean I am wrong: it means I have something to contribute that nobody else has thought about.
2. Don’t use twenty words when ten will do
But then what happens when I do speak out? I remember writer Elaine Storkey years ago commenting that in group contexts men will generally make a succinct point and say what they think, whereas women will pad out their contributions and use more words, particularly in ways that are self-deprecating.
I often laugh to myself when I hear what I say because I preface my contributions with, ‘I may be wrong but…’, or, ‘forgive me if I haven’t understood this properly but…’. It is something I am trying to learn not to do and to be more concise in what I say.
3. Money is not a dirty word
This final point really hit home because I know I am terrible at this. Simson talks about how women will negotiate for less money when offered the same position as a man for fear of appearing greedy.
Working partly on a free-lance basis, I am often asked what fee I want for a speaking engagement and I know that is my nemesis. I simply am incapable of stating a fee that really reflects how much I am worth. Just recently, for example, I did a piece of writing for an organisation and, looking back, I know that I asked for way less than I should have done. This is an area in which I still have much to learn.
Gender generalisations are dangerous, but I recognise enough of myself in what Simson says to think that these points are helpful for women – and men – to be aware of. We need to work together to ensure that we all have the opportunities and the access to make the most of the giftings and unique abilities that each one of us brings.