Don’t Speak (but when can we)

A few weeks ago I moderated a panel on women in tech and unconscious bias for Fort Collins Startup Week. Personally I was nervous; I had a lot of responsibility for the success or failure of the panel (or maybe that is just the extra pressure I put on myself; owning the failure and sharing the success as is my womanly nature). I needed to keep the audience engaged, keep the panelists focused, and keep everyone involved. Also, calling out bias and speaking as a women in tech is scary. I would stand out more in my uniqueness (again) and be sharing what I’m passionate about, on something central to who I am; could I handle the tough questions and potential criticism?

Like all the good overachieving women in the world, I prepared. I had questions to direct to each panelist. I had poll questions to include the audience. I had some facts and personal stories to interweave with the conversation. Each grouped on index cards by topics we wanted to cover. And it helped; it was my security blanket.

The discussion continued to loop back to how to handle unconscious bias in the workplace. I’ve written a blog post on how to recognize it and begin to coach others in your organization. I’ve written another blog post on how I wished I said something in the moment.

People tend to want to handle it carefully and in a calm environment. However, as one audience member pointed out, if you are the one mistreated (for lack of a better word) then why should we baby the perpetrator (also not the best word). And she had a point. If you’re mad why shouldn’t you say something in that moment?

Yes, it sucks, but women are taken less seriously when they react; they are too emotional or overreacting or it’s just their time of the month. I’ve been conditioned over time not to react and to keep a straight face, also perhaps not the best reaction. But it’s been my experience that I am listened to more if I can remove the emotion from my voice and my statements are coming from a calm, non-reactionary place. Also the “perpetrator” is more likely to listen and receive feedback if they do not feel attacked or defensive.

However, everyone is different. By nature, I do not like confrontation and I do not like drawing attention to myself. There is value in being yourself; if you want to say something in that instant, then say it. If more women do begin to speak up in the moment I would hope that we could change the “overly emotional woman let’s ignore her” narrative. I wish had more courage to.

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