What are you doing to elevate women’s voices and encourage diverse perspectives?
You may be aware that International Women’s Day was celebrated this month and that March is National Women’s History Month. You may be thinking, “why should I care? There is a national day for celebrating just about everything under the sun, national dog day, national donut day, national pecan sandies day.” It is a bit much. However, many important reasons exist for celebrating International Women’s Day and National Women’s History month.
We have come a long way since the 1920s when after nearly a century of activism, women were granted the right to vote. In the 1980s, National Women’s History Week was proclaimed with presidential and congressional support. Until then, women’s history was virtually an unknown topic, and female contributions were largely disregarded. The focus on women’s history brought to light many fascinating women who have profoundly impacted our society. For example, did you know that the first computer programmer was a woman named Ada Lovelace. In the 1800s, she was mentored by Charles Babbage who is credited for creating the first computer. She translated an article on Babbage’s analytical engine from French to English and included several pages of her own thoughts and ideas on the machine. She described how codes could be created and theorized a process known as looping that computer programs use today.
The focus on women’s history apprises us of the contributions of many women throughout the years. Women like Katherine Johnson who executed critical space calculations to ensure safe space travel and Adele Goldberg who developed some of the world’s most notable programming languages. Despite so many significant IT contributions by women, the field of technology is greatly lacking in female representation. According to unwomen.org “women make up only 22 percent of artificial intelligence workers globally.” This fact didn’t bother me until I learned that after analyzing 133 AI systems worldwide they found that 44.2 percent demonstrated gender bias. If AI is the voice of the future, then we need more female voices involved. It’s not progress if the equality that so many have diligently fought for regresses.
Several years ago, I read an interesting article in Y magazine entitled “When women don’t speak”. The article followed a study by the Gender and Civic Engagement Lab at BYU. The study followed the female experience in a top-10 predominately male collegiate accounting program. They found in group settings, women spoke less, were interrupted more, and were not listened to as much. The environment doesn’t have to be hostile for this to be the case, either. Both men and women reported loving their groups; however, cultural norms and gendered messages profoundly impacted the rules of engagement. They found that it took a supermajority of women, 4 out of 5, before women had equal speaking time as men. Society has shaped our views on gender and the roles associated with that gender. And it is not just men that shape the experience; women are equally to blame. The article suggests ways we can elevate women’s voices.
First, being aware of this interesting dynamic can elicit change, and men can practice listening more intentionally. It’s also vitally important that women speak up. Sometimes all it takes is one voice to get the ball rolling. Having a mentor to pattern this behavior emboldens women to share their thoughts. Showing positive support, welcoming participation, and validating ideas goes a long way to encouraging voices. Leaders can take an active role in ensuring everyone has a turn and equal speaking time. Finally, modeling respectful communication at home and pointing out unhealthy interactions at school or in the media will help us to change the cultural norms that silence women.
When I started working with TEK Utah I didn’t really know what I was doing. I fumbled through the best I could, but it wasn’t until Eric hired his business coach, René (Power Zone Coaching), that I started to find my place. From the beginning, René pushed me to share my thoughts and opinions. She modeled confidence and encouraged the whole team to be our best selves. At first, I felt like I didn’t have the experience or authority to contribute. But she didn’t relent, and it didn’t take long before I felt empowered to speak up and share my ideas. Eric has been amazing to work with because he welcomes my perspective and validates my views. Working for TEK Utah has been rewarding. Our tagline, “your success is our success” is not only true for our clients but our team as well. My growth has helped TEK Utah and vis versa. There may have been stumbles as I learned to work with QuickBooks and had coaching sessions with René to help get things in order. But my experience has given the company direction, we are more organized, and our team functions at a higher level, which allows TEK Utah to provide our clients with better service. As we have worked to create and lean into the company values, it has been exciting to watch our growth. We have welcomed regular feedback from our clients by participating in our satisfaction survey. The results have allowed us to find areas where we excel and have been a way to open up communication, learn from our client’s experience, and improve our services.
Empowering others to share their perspectives helps us to be more successful at what we do and continually improve our offerings. Anyone who has ever worked in a group setting can appreciate the value of looking at things from multiple angles. It creates possibilities that would otherwise be unavailable. This month as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, and National Women’s History Month, let’s put in the effort to effect positive change. Embolden those around us to live their best selves, elevate silent voices by listening and encouraging contributions, provide uplifting support, and inspire confidence. We will be rewarded with the opportunity to see things from new angles and have our minds opened to greater opportunities.
Author, Jenny Hodges, Executive Administrator, TEK Utah
Additional references can be found here: Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson, Adele Goldberg