If you had an open microphone to the world for seven minutes, what would you say?
August 30, 2016
Last Saturday I won the Toastmasters International Public Speaking contest for my District of California, meaning my next stage will be in Washington DC, competing against 97 other contestants from a total of 135 countries. Women have only been been allowed in Toastmasters for 43 of its 94 year history, and only 4 women have ever won the overall Championship. I’m very honored and passionate to hopefully be the 5th!
As I stood on that stage, alongside nine men, I was prepared to do my best. I believed I had written a winning speech, I was rehearsed, and I had won at all three earlier levels of the competition to earn my position on that stage. When they called my name as winner, I was absolutely ecstatic!.. and then it happened.
As men approached to offer their laudations, I was surprised at how common the first sentence after ‘congratulations’ was ‘here’s what you can do to make it better...’.
I don’t mean one guy, or even two or three. I mean a solid 85%. Even one of my competitors immediately followed his congratulations with ‘I went over my time and was disqualified’. What did he expect me to do, acquiesce?.. to give him my trophy and say ‘you really were better and deserved to win’?.. By comparison, only one woman offered unsolicited changes to my presentation.
I began to think of other times men had taken away my victory by justifying their loss. On the basketball court, as soon I’m ahead by more than two baskets I hear: ‘I should’ve worn my good shoes …. ‘I shouldn’t have eaten so much for lunch’ (or ‘should’ve eaten lunch’), and my favorite ‘man, I’m tight. I really should’ve stretched before we started’.
I’m far from alone in hearing these and the sports arena isn’t the only place it happens; in the business world, these self-justifications are often the objectifying or sexualizing of the woman, a variation of ‘she must be sleeping with the boss/client’. Instantly a woman’s entire education, drive, and accomplishments are as summarily dismissed as the fact that I’ve been playing basketball since I was 6 years old.
I’ve won and lost in every sport, activity, contest, audition, promotion, and interview situation I’ve ever stepped up to be a contender. And while I’ve never enjoyed losing, I understand losing is the catalyst that makes us grow; it’s how we cultivate determination, how we grasp the importance of ‘team’, how we mature with grace and sportsmanship, and how we learn the only true failure in life is to not try again.
I’m not here to pick on men; my goal to shine a light on a practice so commonplace you may not even realize you or your male colleagues are engaging in it. The solution is not to think of the women around you as men, but simply as equals. Honor and respect the hard work that went into their achievement in the same manner you would like others to honor yours. A simple handshake and ‘good game’ goes a long way in creating an ally, friend, colleague, and teammate.