Victoria Chao: Valuing Voices and Catching Up
We’re at a point in history where it’s actually pretty good to be a young woman in the professional world.
It’s remarkable to think that we live in a world where:
- Paid maternity leave is a national conversation.
- As I’m writing this, the second most popular column in The Washington Post is titled, "Famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting," which highlights the communication issues women face in the workplace.
- Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In can inspire me to improve my negotiation skills and I can log onto Levo League for a little encouragement while I figure out my career path.
- As a nation, we are aware that women are paid less than men and are held to different standards in the workforce.
With this level of national awareness, and with all of these different groups drawing attention to the biases and challenges women face in the workforce, why specifically should we be GenderAvengers?
When I joined this group a year ago, many of my friends — almost all of them fellow feminists — asked if it might be more useful for GenderAvenger to help women better prepare for conferences or provide other professional training.
But my well-meaning friends were missing an important point: women are not underrepresented in the public discourse because we are less skilled than men.
Women are more likely to graduate from college and attend graduate school, yet we earn less and hold fewer positions of power — everyone can use guidance when it comes to public speaking and negotiation — but these are separate issues that don’t explain the lack of women in the public dialogue.
The glass ceiling is real, and it’s not a stretch to say that the odds are stacked against women when it comes to being visible and being heard. A United College of London Business School professor argued in the Harvard Business Review that we appear less in the public eye because we are less likely to possess the dysfunctional traits that get confused with leadership potential.
There's another reason why we need to demand equal representation in the public sphere now: the longer we wait, the further ahead men get.
Appearing at conferences or on a "Best of" list makes it easier to get invited to other conferences, panels, and lists.
If you've ever had to line up guests for media interviews and public events, you know that a record of prior appearances on lists or decently respectable conferences can go a long way in legitimizing consideration for a spot on stage. Relying on the recommendations of others is part of the job — after all, no one is an expert on everything. It's a system that fills panel spots quickly, but it is also one that creates a snowball effect, where each appearance builds credibility to appear somewhere else. If the conference industrial complex starts by favoring men early on, how can women catch up?
It's time to close the gap, because we know that it's certainly not going to close itself. Valuing the voices of all people, not just the ones who are always being heard, is important for promoting diverse thinking and solutions to problems.
Go ahead and sharpen your skills and strengthen your community. But it's also okay, and even right, to stand up and make noise when you see something amiss (like a conference speaker lineup of all white men). Your voice has power and your actions make a difference. Beat the excuses, take the pledge, share your tally, and simply be proud to be a GenderAvenger.
Victoria Chao. GenderAvenger. storyteller, adventurer, lifelong learner, dog mom. Communications associate at The Kaiser Family Foundation. Harvard Graduate School of Education and Brown University alumna. Former Fulbright fellow and NPR intern. Proud Ohioan. @chaotweets.