Three Things Women (and Men) Need to Know

February 5, 2013

female-leaders 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.

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  • Reply Goldsmith February 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    Well done, darling! really helpful. I should have read this long ago. love Mum

  • Reply patinaandcompany February 5, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Women are afraid to call themselves feminists and be associated with a whole host of issues that people like to link it with that have nothing to do with equality or straightforward women’s issues like free choice of one’s destiny and opportunities. I prefer to call all MEN (such as my dear son who sends me stories on women’s issues) AND women who believe in these things feminists. Aren’t they?
    Great advice in the three tips!

  • Reply Júlio Reis February 6, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Hmmm tricky question… It’s like, “Do you believe in God?” What are you thinking of when you say ‘God’? You should assume good faith from the asker, unless you have proof otherwise. Still, maybe it’s best to summarize your position, something perhaps like,

    “The word ‘feminist’ is a bit loaded, but yes, I believe women have equal rights to men, and I realize that our society is male-oriented to the detriment of both women and men. I try to fix this is living up to my standards and educating people around me with my personal example.”

    —and then giving a kind smile and asking, “Why do you ask?” 🙂 To see where the conversation would go.

    That doesn’t sound completely good to me (and anyway, the question wasn’t directed at myself :-)), but I tried at the same time and in as few words as possible to a) point out the possible semantic differences; b) accept the moniker (“but yes”); c) explain my beliefs; d) indicate my course of action; and e) start a conversation. Whew! 🙂

    Whatever it is, I think that if you prepare an answer you can be of great service (for there will be a ‘next time’). I think the downside is that, if your answer is too good, you may be invited to speak on feminism! Which is the loss of sustainability and simplicity, but everyone’s gain just the same.

    Which leads us into ‘the money’. Oh come on, Ruth… One way around is to find the market price of such things. How much does George Monbiot charge for a speaking engagement? Go with that. Because I love him but I’d rather hear you! You’re no less to me. You have great things to say, and you say them well. You’re a professional speaker, or at least you speak like one, so you should earn like one. And if you don’t get paid well, let it not be because you’ve asked too little.

    If it helps, don’t make it personal: e.g. instead of saying (and thinking) “I want £…”, try “The usual rate for a speaking engagement is £… plus expenses, and I’m going with that”.

    I hope I’m not being too prescriptive – you did not ask for advice, but as you can see I am not afraid to speak out. 🙂 You posed a problem, I contributed towards the solution.

    PS – I note that you did not tell what your answer was… 🙂

    • Reply ruthvalerio February 6, 2013 at 10:20 pm

      wow, great comment there Julio, thanks!

  • Reply Byron Smith February 6, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    I am happy to embrace the term in the ways described by the two commenters above.

    (NB Monbiot posts his finances publicly – much kudos to him as a leading journalist for doing this: http://www.monbiot.com/registry-of-interests/)

  • Reply Byron Smith February 6, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Three times he lists speaker fees for different things and the amounts are £1,200, £1,000 and £3,971.87. The first was for a public event in the UK. The second was for a videoconference appearance. The third was for an event in Oslo and may well have included travel expenses.

    • Reply ruthvalerio February 6, 2013 at 10:21 pm

      well, I don’t think I’ll ever reach his level but it’s interesting to see anyway 🙂

  • Reply kalicet February 6, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    I was particularly challenged by saying things in 10 words not 20… I have never had a problem talking (all those who know me are nodding) but saying it succinctly is a real gift…

    Also, the money thing is particularly tricky in Christian circles where there seems to be a bit of an assumption that asking for less money makes you more holy… where as in reality it just has the chance of making you more hungry!!

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