Two words, huge implications.
As a young woman early in my career, I was facing the challenge to give my opinion to a room full of experts with triple, if not quadruple, the amount of experience I had. It was the kind of anxiety-inducing event that could show up on a Secret commercial.
My boss at the time, who would soon become a mentor and lifelong friend, knew what she was doing when she muttered those two words. She was pushing the least-experienced person in the room to offer an opinion. To potentially get it wrong. To share a point of view. But most importantly, to have a voice.
Now, if you met me on the weekend or pretty much anywhere other than a good old-fashioned boardroom (remember those?!), you’d probably say I don’t shut up. I talk and I talk loudly. But there’s something about being a young woman and knowing what you don’t know that makes it easy to cling to silence.
And without realizing it (because how often do we consider the bigger picture during our younger years?), I was denying the work, not to mention myself, the benefit of my own thinking. To be clear, I’m not saying that what I had to offer was going to be game-changing. In fact, it probably wasn’t. But one person’s non-Sabre thought could be someone else’s Cannes-worthy spark. And that was the lesson I was slowly but surely learning.
I was learning by seeing and learning by doing and truthfully, it sometimes may have felt like flailing but other times it felt like being punted Mason Crosby-style out of the nest. What I had learned in those moments of speaking up was worth far more than the momentary comfort of silence.
Working in the mostly male, creative industry, I’ve basically heard every point of view there is to hear about ideas and how we get to them:
“A good idea can come from anywhere.”
“People go to school to specialize in this.”
“It takes years of experience to have good ideas.”
Here’s what I do know. Ideas come from people who have thoughts and the space to verbalize them. And in a Zoom and Teams world, that space becomes even smaller than it was before. Possibly in the beginning, technology wasn’t created to foster unique perspectives, but people were – people like my boss, who I could have sworn was determined to put me on the spot, when really, she was putting me in the spotlight.
At the end of the day, the brief, the idea, and even the world can only be made better by proactively choosing to provide more space for more voices – more underserved voices, more diverse voices. There’s much work to be done here. Work that is our collective responsibility.
As I reflect on what it took to find my voice in the professional world, I know it required an effort on my part. But I think back to the impact of being put on the spot – er, in the spotlight – by someone who gave me that nudge, who built that podium for me to step out on. I think about how someone took a chance on the young girl who cracks jokes on the weekend but sits nervous and quiet in the brainstorm meeting.
So, I ask this: If you see the quiet one, the one that no one is taking a chance on, build them a podium. Just because they’re not using their voice, doesn’t mean they don’t have one.
Perhaps they just need someone to help them find it.