As someone from the business world writing about women being heard it made me think. The protests that have been peaceful have been amazing in raising awareness and because of it, so many people are saying yes, we must change but beyond posting pronouncements what can people actually do?
What can you do? Practically? Day to day, meeting by meeting?
Hear their voice
It is important that all voices are heard but it is true to say that the voices of white men are heard more than most. Statistics show that on average, white men speak for 75% of the time in decision making meetings.Why is that? It’s a complex question however, history, culture, socialisation, outward confidence are just a few of the answers.
The truth is that for most women and particularly women of colour, to be heard is much harder than it is for men.
Men (and some white women) do not always realise how hard it is. The behaviours that make it hard are often not intentional and sit squarely in the unconscious bias category. What is not your lived experience, is not always easy to understand. This is intersectionality, bias (unconscious or otherwise) against women plus bias against women of colour. Combined, this makes for a powerful negative force.
What Action to Take?
So, if you, personally want to do something positive to end racism, here’s some things you can do in meetings, day by day.
- Listen when a woman of colour speaks
Accord her the respect and assumption of credibility that the average white man typically, gets automatically.
- Do not interrupt or speak over her, (no matter how excited you are about the point you’re about to make!) The stats show that when women speak up, they are often interrupted, talked over and when they try to reassert themselves they get criticised for being aggressive or for being that awful trope, an “angry black woman.”
If you see someone else do that, call it out. Say something like, “I think ….. had a great point there & I don’t think she’d finished”.
- When she speaks and makes a good point, acknowledge it, and amplify it, tell the group you thought it was great and why. Encouragement and endorsement matter.
- Invite her to speak and seek her opinion. Often women find it harder to break into meetings where assertive men are robustly vying for air space. So, women tend to sit back, and their voices aren’t heard. Rather than make her have to try and fight her way into the discussion, invite contribution, ask what she thinks. You might hear a completely new idea or fresh perspective, that’s why diversity pays for businesses.
The definition of Impunity is, “freedom from punishment for something that has been done that is wrong”. Failure to hear men and women of colour has been wrong for too long.
You believe black lives matter? Well, put that belief into action in your day to day work life and the world will move forward.
With thanks to Dr Arinola Araba for inspiring this article.