(Note: The following is excerpted from Claim the Stage! The Workbook, an interactive workbook associated with my book Claim the Stage: A Woman’s Guide to Speaking Up, Standing Out and Taking Leadership. Both will be available to the public by mid-summer)
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my work is that silence is not necessarily golden. Whether you want to step onto larger stages, or share your voice more in meetings or conversations, one thing is certain: Your voice cannot be shared if you choose to silence it. Silence is not necessarily golden (except when your newborn finally falls asleep, or you’ve just made an important point in your presentation and want to give your audience a chance to let it sink in, or you want to honor someone by listening well before you respond). Staying silent, hovering in the wings, and watching others shine in the spotlight will not advance your cause, sell your ideas or products, or give you the opportunity to move hearts and souls towards better, more positive outcomes.
I am reminded of a beautiful poem that was written by Anasuya Sengupta, who was at the time a senior at Lady Sri Ram College in India. It was shared with Hillary Clinton, who read it out loud when she spoke at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation on March 30, 1995:
“Too many women in too many countries speak the same language—of silence.
My grandmother was always silent, always aggrieved,
Only her husband had the cosmic right (or so it was said)
to speak and be heard.
They say it is different now.
But sometimes I wonder.
When a woman gives her love, as most do, generously, it is accepted.
When a woman shares her thoughts, as some women do, graciously, it is allowed.
When a woman fights for power, as all women would like to, quietly or loudly, it is questioned.
And yet, there must be freedom, if we are to speak.
And yes, there must be power, if we are to be heard.
And we have both (freedom and power), let us not be misunderstood.”
As Hillary Clinton said in her speech that day, “women’s voices should be heard…and silence is not appropriate for women in their own lives, and women in the larger world.”
Whatever your political leanings, I hope that, if you are a woman who has ever felt marginalized, silenced and undervalued in spite of your talents and abilities, Ms. Clinton’s words (and the beautiful words crafted by Ms. Sengupta) stir you on some level.
Women’s voices should indeed be heard. They have been silenced for too long. And women certainly don’t need to add to that silencing by silencing themselves.
I will say it again, and again, and again, probably to my dying day: You are worthy of embracing who you are and sharing your unique voice. The world needs your voice, ringing out clearly without apology. Whether you choose to share it in corporate boardrooms, in the halls of justice, or in government office, the world needs your voice. Whether you choose to share it by speaking up and out in difficult conversations, weighing in on life-changing legislation, or sharing big ideas in a business pitch or podcast, the world needs your voice. Because silence is not golden when it robs you of the power to make your difference.