I recently attended a Multicultural Summit put on by a large financial institution. It was powerful and beautiful and I felt like I belonged.
Yet. One small moment has been on repeat in my brain. It’s this phrase, muttered to me by a very senior (male) Exec:
“It sounds weird coming from a woman, doesn’t it?”
Here’s the scene: Four young, brilliant, thought-provoking entrepreneurs were on a panel. Two men, two women. One of the women, a computer engineer, spoke about the importance of finding trusted professionals to support her various business and personal needs: accountant, financial advisor, lawyer. She told the story of getting married, and said, “When I got engaged, I was able to turn to my lawyer to draft my pre-nup.”
That’s when the very senior (male) Exec on my right turned to me and said (apparently not noticing that I am, indeed, also a woman), that phrase. “It sounds weird coming from a woman, doesn’t it?”
There are moments in our lives that we look back on and say, “that was defining” - there are far fewer that we realize it the moment it happens. This was one of those.
Because, he was right.
Now, “weird” isn’t quite the right word. But it did, indeed, sound something. And it registered with me. And with the man next to me. And with plenty of others (I checked).
As the panelists kept talking, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the other messages coming from the women caused that ‘brain stutter.’ And how quickly (or, perhaps better said, slowly) the audience recovered and returned to listening. How much of what women say is lost simply because it “sounds weird coming from a woman”?
That feels pretty big, doesn’t it?
And then I thought, “Well, that’s stupid. Let’s just retrain our damn brains.”
Collectively, we need to create brain grooves with fewer speed bumps (there’s real science behind that statement, if somewhat bastardized. Neuroplasticity - it’s cool, Google it).
We do that two ways: first, by making it usual. Standard. Par for the course. Second, we strengthen women’s voices (literally - more science - and that’ll be another blog).
We need to hear more women talking about their pre-nups because they’re millionaires by their own right. We need to hear more women talking about their business ideas. About their skills. Their accomplishments. We need to hear it more, and more often.
And we need to celebrate it: sitting to my left at the conference was a young, hip (female) attendee. Her response when the panelist mentioned “pre-nup”:
When someone DOES say it more, loudly and constantly, we need to echo “That’s right".
Start talking about whatever your pre-nup is (and make the figurative leap with me here - you delivered a killer presentation, solved a complex challenge, or made a great hire). Stop waiting for the others around you to hear you differently. Train them to hear you differently. Say it clearly and confidently. No “I just”s or “I think”s or “Maybe”s.
Because stating “I deserve the raise” “My idea is valid” “We can improve by doing this” is critically important.
Let's do it because, when you (or your friend/sister/daughter) DO make that statement, nobody should feel compelled to lean over and say “that sounds weird coming from a woman, doesn’t it?”
One Postscript: none of the panelists were white. You may have got that when I mentioned it was a multicultural summit, or you may not have thought of it at all. But, if your brain DID draw a picture of the woman who mentioned her pre-nup as a lovely white woman (or any of the panelists, for that matter), take a moment and think on that, too.