Five Ways to Celebrate Women’s Equality Day

Sunday, August 26, is Women’s Equality Day. This day marks the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote 92 years ago. Thousands of women and their allies worked for decades to make that day in 1920 possible. It took years of lobbying and demonstrations, passing out pamphlet after pamphlet, publishing editorials, and giving speeches to make it happen. On Women’s Equality Day in 2010, we celebrated some of the great sacrifices women suffragists made in the fight for the vote.

The right to vote was a great step in women gaining equality — many of today’s elected leaders are sticking up for women and their rights because women are a vocal constituency. But it’s not enough. Some of our representatives still believe women can’t get pregnant from rape, while others want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which provides millions of women with preventive care services free of charge with their health insurance.

This election year, we can harness the vote our sisters worked hard, before and after 1920, to give us by knocking this backward thinking aside and continuing our progress toward equality. So this weekend, I hope you will join us in celebrating Women’s Equality Day by getting ready for the upcoming election. Here are five things you can do right now:

  1. Register to vote. Don’t wait, or it could be too late. Act now.
  2. Find out what will be on the ballot in your state. Don’t give too much credit to the writers of ballot measures. The language can be tricky, so reading it ahead of time will ensure you vote for what you believe in. Act now.
  3. Film an It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard pep talk video. Sometimes all it takes is a connection with someone like you to make a request successful. Ask a young woman in your life about the issues that she’s voting for, and send us the footage. Act now.
  4. Send this blog to a young woman. Your reminder could be just what she needs to get inspired. Act now.
  5. Sign a petition — get involved! There are an overwhelming number of petitions on the Internet covering a huge range of topics. Sign up for the AAUW Action Network, and take a stand on important issues. Act now.

This piece was reposted from AAUW.

Sexual Harassment Online and Why You Should Care about Adria Richards

Before this week I had never heard of Adria Richards or her blog, But You’re a Girl. Probably many of you haven’t heard of her either; here’s why I want you to learn about her now.

Last week, Richards was a developer evangelist at the tech company SendGrid, and she attended a tech conference called PyCon. Now here’s where it gets complicated. During one of the conference sessions, Richards allegedly heard two men making sexualized jokes, so she turned around, snapped a picture, and tweeted it. PyCon addressed the men on the spot. (Here’s her blog about the incident.) In response, Richards was fired from SendGrid and PlayHaven fired one of their involved employees.

(Trigger warning: Links contain offensive language.)

The situation has blown up online.

Some are calling out the companies for overreacting. Others are wondering if Richards could have handled the situation differently. I don’t want to compare these opinions here; what put my stomach in 10 knots were the reports of incessant, ugly, and sexist threats and online bullying targeted at Richards after the incident. What started as thoughtful dialogue degraded into vitriolic tweets and sexist name-calling — even death and rape threats. (Many of these comments have since been flagged and removed from Twitter.)

twitter backlash

These kinds of online attacks constitute abuse. Any blogger who writes something worth paying attention to can expect her share of trolls, but does that make it okay?

I’ve been in a situation where a colleague’s leering sexual innuendo made me feel ashamed. I’ve read the articles about incredible women being reprimanded for speaking out against sexism. As a woman who works with technology, I’ve been to the information technology seminars where the overwhelming number of participants are men.

When sexism takes a hold of a situation like this, I don’t feel safe, because I know it could happen to me. A woman blogger can’t police these kinds of comments alone, so the rest of the online community shouldn’t stand by and watch it happen.

We should stick up for each other online and say this is not okay, just as we should if we see harassment in the street. We need to call out the perpetrators of sexual harassment — it is sexual harassment after all — to make them face the real problem at hand: A personal attack that silences one woman, particularly in an industry that already gets flack for being unfriendly to women, is a loss for everyone.

This piece was reposted from AAUW.

Is That a Question or a Statement? How You Speak Matters

You don’t have to be a public speaker to pay attention to your voice. Before an interview, salary negotiation, or presentation, we are sure to look professional and have our talking points down — but what about how we’re going to say it? Our voice is something we can control, so we need to stop ignoring it.

Speak lower. Speak slower. Speak louder.

When I speak in front of a group, this is feedback I might receive. That is because I’ve picked up many of the vocal patterns of women like me. I have a high voice, and at the end of my sentences I often go into a higher register, like I’m asking a question. See the first 20 seconds of Zooey Deschanel on Katie Couric’s talk show (below). This phenomenon is often referred to as “upspeak” or “uptalk.”

Seeing it in video feels cringe-worthy when you listen for it, but thousands of people will watch the show without a second thought to the way the women spoke, so why does it even matter? Christine Jahnke, a Washington, D.C.-based speech coach, spells it out like this: “Upspeak makes everything you’re saying sound like a question rather than a declarative statement, thus the speaker comes across as hesitant, and what they’re not doing is speaking with authority.”

Deschanel’s and Couric’s use of uptalk in the show was friendly, but if women are employing uptalk without considering the circumstances, they might be giving off the wrong impression. Let’s face it, the habit has a bad reputation. Magazines and blogs, colleagues, and even my peers have no issue calling the vocal pattern, like, so annoying. That is why it is important to understand the way you speak.

“When we think about the voice overall, it’s a good idea to avoid repetitive patterns,” says Jahnke. “Audiences pick up on repetitive patterns and they start to anticipate them so much that they become distracted from what you are trying to say.”

Jahnke has worked with women from all walks of life, including coaching Michelle Obama and teaching a workshop at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL). Jahnke gives great advice for why ladies might upspeak when we shouldn’t and what we can do to edit it out.

Reason 1: In any kind of high-pressure situation where you might get nervous, you tend to speak more quickly, your vocal chords tighten, and your voice starts to rise. You often won’t even realize it is happening.
Try this: Jahnke recommends a great way to relax. Take a deep breath through the nose, hold it for two counts, then exhale audibly. It also warms up the vocal chords. Continue to breathe throughout your presentation.
Reason 2: We are looking for affirmation or trying to solicit feedback.
Try this: “There are better ways to take the temperature of the room without making every phrase sound like a question,” says Jahnke. “Be more direct and ask the individual or audience, ‘What do you think?’ or ‘Do you agree?’”
Extra credit: In her keynote speech at NCCWSL 2013, Rachel Simmons suggested young women start their sentences with the phrase “this is what I think.” That way the apologizing and unsure tones she’s witnessed don’t fit into what you’re going to say next.

When you give yourself a disclaimer before presenting an idea or use uptalk to facilitate feedback, you’re giving the wrong impression. It takes a conscious effort to break ineffective habits and practice to develop a style that works for you. Jahnke suggests women video tape themselves speaking. That way we can see (and hear) for ourselves what others are hearing.

Then, find a safe environment where you can practice and receive constructive feedback. I loved Jahnke’s idea of a once-a-month brown bag lunch with your colleagues or professional network where you practice giving your elevator speech, provide feedback, tape each other, and talk about it.

“You can read about it, but you have to do it,” Jahnke says. And the more you practice, the more effective your presentations and negotiations will be.

Slideshow: Women Who Speak with Authority

We live in an exciting time with more women role models than ever before. We have three female Supreme Court justices, more women than ever in Congress, more women in the president’s political cabinet, and growing female leadership in business. There are a lot of examples of great women leaders we can look to for examples of great communication. Christine Jahnke, author of The Well-Spoken Woman: Your Guide to Looking and Sounding Your Best, shared her take on some of the best women speakers of our time.

Sheryl Sandberg

Picture 1 of 6

Facebook Chief Operating Officer and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg speaks with great candor. Watch her speak »

Photo by World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This piece was reposted from AAUW.

Viral Pantene Philippines Ad Challenges Stereotypes, Will Air in United States

whipit-imageIn one minute, the Pantene #WhipIt commercial took negative stereotypes of women leaders and flipped those ideas on their head. Our readers know that negative labels aimed at women leaders are nothing new. What is new is a commercial that directly addresses and challenges these labels. We have to praise this Pantene ad for bringing feminist issues to a wider audience and rejecting the old, lazy, sexist advertising tropes many companies still use.

The Pantene ad shows high-powered women and men in parallel situations with the women receiving deprecating labels, while the men receive praise. The man giving a passionate speech is marked as “persuasive,” while the woman speaker is “pushy.” The man in the office addressing a colleague is the “boss.” The woman in the same office, same position, is “bossy.” In copy accompanying the ad, Pantene urges everyone to “whip away the double standards that hold women back.”

That’s a message women worldwide need to hear, and we were excited when this morning Pantene announced plans to bring the ad campaign to the United States under a new name — #ShineStrong. Originally, the ad aired only in the Philippines but went viral online and even garnered praise from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

sheryl sandberg pantene facebook post

While this is a commercial for shampoo (and none of the models bend any beauty norms), we do think ads addressing and challenging stereotypes are empowering. To recognize and fight off stereotype threat, the risk of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype, a woman leader needs confidence and assurance. She shouldn’t have to worry about being labeled “bossy” and a “show-off.”

And even when a woman leader has confidence, she still needs her colleagues and bosses to recognize that they too need to reject sexist labeling and stereotypes. Women will continue breaking through the glass ceiling, but sexism isn’t over, and real barriers to equality in leadership for women in the workplace and politics still exist.

We see thousands of ads per day, and whether we like it or not, they shape our perceptions of society and each other. Many ads perpetuate societal norms, so when a commercial directly confronts stereotypes, we stand up and take notice. Some of the more than seven million people who saw Pantene’s ad understand stereotype threat, and many learned something about sexism along the way. That is why we’re excited that Pantene will bring this positive ad to the United States. We hope other companies take notice.


This piece was reposted from AAUW.