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We Need to Be Heard, Not Liked

Photograph by Getty Images

It recently occurred to me that when I’m relating to men, particularly men I perceive as being more powerful than me, I don’t speak my truth. I have a tendency of playing nice for fear of being dismissed or ignored; I don’t want to be seen as “pushy.” Not long ago I found myself not speaking up when my ex-husband told me about a new relationship in his life. Although what he shared is likely to impact our son in a way that makes me unhappy, I didn’t express my concerns. I didn’t speak up for fear that my words and disagreement would anger him.

I know that I’m not alone. Women in our society are not encouraged to be truthful and to share their ideas.

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Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant have been writing a series of articles for the New York Times about women in corporate America. These articles point to the fact that for their “progress” in the workforce, women are still not being heard in their work place. Their most recent installment, “Speaking While Female” states that women who share their ideas and perspectives at work are often overlooked by their peers and superiors. And when such women are persistent, they’re considered pushy or too aggressive, whereas their male counterparts are considered forthright. They’re go-getters. The result is that companies are missing much of the value that women staff members offer.

We must be willing to risk being liked and thought of as bitchy. We have to teach others how to treat and think of us by thinking highly of ourselves.

Indeed, in an early installment of the series, “When Talking About Bias Backfires,” Sandberg and Grant explained that pointing out discrimination and bias to people has a way of encouraging the behavior rather than altering it. It is clearly not enough then to simply acknowledge the biases. Executives must insist that such behavior is unacceptable.

For myself, I experience a great deal of fear of being judged by men for sharing my ideas, both in my personal life and work life. My interest in being liked trumps my interest in being truthful. It is much easier for me to be a team player than it is to be a leader. However, when the space is created for me to speak up, I find that what I have to share is invariably worth hearing. Considering all this, I will say that I don’t feel equal to men. I feel different from men.

While women’s choices about whether to pursue a career are vastly different from what they were 40 years ago, what is OK for women to do once they get to the workplace seems to have lagged far behind. The challenge I see is that many men haven’t given up their ideas of women as being second-class. I would like to write those men a memo that clarifies this issue:

Women are here. They are here because we need them here in order to evolve and grow. They are not equal to you; they are different from you. With those differences comes a wealth of ideas, perceptions and experiences that will add infinite knowledge to our environment. There is no inequality in the differences, only unique strengths.

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I would urge women to be themselves in every environment. We must be willing to risk being liked and thought of as bitchy. We have to teach others how to treat and think of us by thinking highly of ourselves. It’s our responsibility to change the status quo by changing ourselves. If we’re not heard the first time, then we must just repeat ourselves. Our entire selves and all that we have to offer are needed in both our family lives and our work lives. Our progress will not come until we refuse to be dismissed, or worse yet, dismiss ourselves in our daily interactions.

Image via Twenty20/pea_elf

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