She Persisted: Lessons For Women Leaders On Using Their Voices
It’s already a t-shirt, in many different stylesfrom multiple sources, plus it’s a tote bag.One version is on amazon. Many benefit different organizations, from the Southern Poverty Law Center to the ACLU, with styles that benefit their causes.
“Nevertheless, she persisted,” has become the new mantra for women leaders of all convictions, ideologies and party lines, who want to make a difference, instigate change, build a movement, strive for parity, speak up and speak out.
After Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was silenced last week on the Senate floor in discussions concerning the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, the words of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell became a Twitter hashtag of #ShePersisted, as well as spinoffs onto t-shirts and more.
McConnell was “invoking Rule 19, a rarely used chamber regulation that prohibits senators from impugning each other,” according to CNN. “’She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,’ the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor, delivering an instantly classic line — the kind liberals imagine being replayed ad nauseum in TV ads in a future presidential campaign.”
More than 11.5 million people have watched the Facebook video of Warren reading the letter she was forbidden to read on the Senate floor, perhaps signaling that because she persisted, more heard the message than ever would have earlier.
The moment has also sparked the creation of the #persisterhood. The action calls to mind the history of women, across party lines, who have been silenced, who are silenced, who have been spoken over and told to be quiet. And yet, who still persist, speak out and produce action and change.
“Being interrupted or ignored, and being one of the few women in the room, can be both inhibiting and enraging. You check your own perception: Was I being too aggressive, or did I really have a point? Is this about being a woman, or something else?” Susan Chira writes in the New York Times.
Bustle pays tribute to seven women leaders in recent history who refused to be silenced, and used their voices to change history, including Patsy Mink, Malala Yousafzai, Anita Hill and Helen Keller.
Huffington Post has a different list of 13 iconic women who would not be silenced, including Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Ruby Bridges and Laverne Cox, writes Jenavieve Hatch.
Also in the list: “Native American activist Winona LaDuke actively protested against the Sandpiper pipeline in 2016, as well as the Dakota Access pipeline. She was Ralph Nader’s running mate in his 1996 and 2000 presidential elections, and continues to be an environmental justice activist through her organization, Honor the Earth,” Hatch writes.
Another addition was Lilly Ledbetter, who “championed equal pay rights for women by suing her employer for paying her 40 percent less than what her male colleagues were earning. In his first act as president, Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in January 2009,” Hatch writes.
As Rebecca Solnit writes in her 2014 book, Men Explain Things To Me, “Every woman I know knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard at times, for any woman, in any field, that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way street harassment does, that this is not their world.”
Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead, created 9 Leadership Power Tools, and Power Tool # 8, “Employ Every Medium,” suggests speaking up and using the medium of your own voice. Use personal, social, and traditional media every step of the way. And think of each of the power tools as a medium to be pressed into the service of your “Power-To.”
Persistence for women leaders can translate into speaking out on panels, or organizing panels at conferences to be sure they include women as experts, so as not to continue the practice of “manels.”
Feldt advises different ways for women leaders to use the power of voice. “Let’s ask: how can women (and men who support gender parity) change not themselves but the culture so women’s voices literally and figuratively are judged on merit not minutiae?” Here are her four tips:
“First understand the game to change it. And no, it isn’t that men and women are hard wired differently. Nor is there a secret plot against women. The late leadership guru Peter Drucker rightly said culture eats strategy for lunch. Both men and women have been shaped by the culture we grew up in and it will take proactive consciousness raising to elevate their own and their women friends’ awareness of the ingrained gendered biases in both policy and practice.
Second, Flip the script. Sometimes injustices are so pervasive no one can see them until they switch roles and disrupt their perceptions. Envision a person of the opposite gender saying or doing the thing you feel negative about. Do you react differently? Ask why and discover your own internal censor.
Third, use the power of your voice even if you get push back. Speak your truth and it will become the truth.
Finally, create a new normal. Own the room. Take your space and your place. Interestingly, researcher Melissa J. Williams reported in Wall Street Journal she and her colleague Larissa Teidens synthesized over 71 studies and uncovered an interesting phenomenon: while women pay a price for verbal assertiveness, they didn’t pay for nonverbal assertiveness and in fact it helped where words did not.”
And now that we have all these stylish choices to promote our persistence, we are employing Power Tool #6: Wear the Shirt (of Your Convictions). What are your core values? What’s your vision? How can you make it happen? Stand in your power and realize your intentions.
Earn the legacy for yourself that “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com