Why Speaking Up Matters for Women in the Workplace Today


Jennifer WilkovBy Jennifer S. Wilkov, Founder, Speak Up Women Conference

Speaking up as a woman in the workplace has had its risks and rewards over the years. A recent article in the New York Times talks about “a moment now for more women to speak up” after what has recently transpired with Roger Ailes, the former Chairman of Fox News, and the comedian Bill Cosby – and even Anita Hill’s accusations 25 years ago of the inappropriate lewd overtures now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made toward her at that time.

More women are being inspired and encouraged to speak up in these types of matters in the workplace as a result of the courage of other women who are demonstrating how to speak up about what has happened to them and the inappropriate ways they have been treated.

Workplaces are about work, not about inappropriate behavior toward any person in the office, female or male. It is supposed to be about accomplishing the company’s vision and mission and getting things done that further the company’s collective goals and objectives, not those of one person who is pursuing his or her own interests in making others uncomfortable for their own personal pleasure or gains.

In the realm of speaking up – personally, professionally and philanthropically, it is not a surprise that more women are speaking up in all of these environments as a result of seeing others do so before them. This is what the Speak Up Women Conference is about – helping women understand the importance and impact they each have when they do it.

What is occurring now with more women speaking up in the workplace and the New York Times covering it in its recent article is a testament to this importance and impact. However, the article also turns its lens on the risks women are still taking in the face of their fears of retaliation by employers, bosses and even colleagues at their companies.

Not every company has responded to the need for employees to be able to safely and confidently speak up when those in more senior positions do not follow the codes of conduct companies hold out as examples of how they have complied with this need. Some of them have responded, even after their own experiences with sexual harassment claims over the years.

If you look at companies like Pepsico, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and even Heineken, these companies have instituted Speak Up Policies to uphold their values and ethics in the workplace and to encourage those inside and also outside the company to call them out when the company or one of its employees is not compliant with them. Other companies are following suit, but not every company or organization.

In order for more women to speak up, chances are they will need to see that other women are not penalized or persecuted as a result of their coming forward to call out the behavior in the workplace that is not only inappropriate but compromising their ability to deliver on the expectations for which they were hired to support the company’s objectives, vision and mission.

In other words, and when looking through the lens of Business 101, people are hired in a company to help the organization succeed with its goals, vision and mission. They are not hired with the expectation of being taken off task by the improper behaviors of their superiors and or colleagues that make it more complicated for them to deliver what was expressed when they were hired as what is expected of them. Most people, female or male, do not know how to respond when the inappropriate behavior occurs, much less how to process their response in conjunction with their fears about their need for their job and income, what others will think of them, and whether quite frankly they have the wherewithal to withstand the microscopic lens that might be put upon them if they were to speak up. Some may feel it is better to suffer in silence and keep their job than to actually speak up and make an effort to improve the workplace decorum and the overall working environment for themselves – and others.

The Speak Up Women Conference helps women understand the impact they have as inevitably when one speaks up, they usually not only influence changes for themselves, but also benefit others in the wake of their actions and potentially inspire others to speak up too.

When you think about the recent New York Times article referring to a moment now for women to speak up, understand that this can only occur through the continuing efforts of women in all types of professions and positions, and even at home in their personal lives. A woman’s right to vote can be cast as an example of how long it took for the continuing efforts here in the United States, and even in the United Kingdom, as portrayed in the recent Hollywood film Suffragette, to come to fruition. In the U.S., the fight for suffrage for women spanned several decades, starting with its establishment in various states and localities and finally culminating nationally in 1920. In just a few years, this effort will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. Ironically, it is referred to as a woman’s “fight” for the right to vote.

When you look at Hollywood, which likes to cover topical subjects in its features, the current film Equity with prominently positioned women in the lead roles as well as in the writing, producing and directing roles, brings the issues of speaking up in a highly competitive professional arena like the financial capital world into focus and up for discussion.

It may continue to take more time to keep raising the ethics bar in the professional realm in order for more women to speak up, but make no mistake, the New York Times is right when it says that this is the moment now for more women to speak up in every arena – personally, professionally and philanthropically.


About the Author: Jennifer S. Wilkov is the founder and producer of Speak Up Women (www.speakupwomen.com), a national conference designed to support women with understanding the importance and impact speaking up has in their personal, professional and philanthropic lives.  Early registration for the next conference, set for March 3, 2017, will open on October 3, 2016. 


Why Speaking Up Matters for Women in the Workplace Today



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