Struggling to Listen

This morning, I was sitting at a women’s leadership conference listening to a panel of older white men explain how women will get ahead. It was a champions panel and the intention was great. Really, I could tell the intention was to show the importance of having male champions for women leaders. I get that.

But, I struggled.

As a successful driven woman, sitting in an audience of other successful driven women, the feeling of being patronized started upon hearing that I should own development and built as they shared example after example. I felt myself shutting down as I got more and more uncomfortable. I was not feeling inspired, I was feeling the gnawing irritation that I was in the wrong place.

And reflecting on that hurts because the male champions who have shaped and guided my career are some of the best people I know. It makes me feel awful because I know that the men on stage have been a champion for someone else. The men are successful leaders and they wouldn’t have been on the panel if they didn’t care about women. I don’t doubt their sincerity. I don’t doubt their support.

But here’s the thing, if they had framed the discussion as a conversation between a pair — one successful woman and the male leader who had championed her — I know I would have been engaged. I would have been at the edge of my chair. I would have been passionately interested to hear the woman’s experience in her own voice — not translated through a man, but direct from her. She could have spoken about how having a champion and supportive organization had helped her grow into leadership.

Instead, I heard a man answering a question about whether he believed that successful women, as a group, did not support future woman leaders.

Ultimately, I want to be the person who is capable of hearing an important message from whoever it is coming from, however it is coming. But I’m not there yet. Optics matter. The voice matters.

And when it comes to women, I want to hear a woman’s voice.

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Middle-aged business exec who had aspirations of being a writer someday. I believe that lifting people up through authentic and vulnerable storytelling creates connection and possibility. My story may not be the most inspiring, but it is the one I know the best and have the right to share.

4 thoughts on “Struggling to Listen”

  1. Really good point Mel. I struggle with the same. I’m appreciative for male champions in my career as well but absent that personal one-on-one relationship, I would struggle the way you did in that session.


    1. Thanks, M. When I was investigating my own response, I thought about how my champions would feel sitting on the stage discussing their experiences sponsoring me, without me. I couldn’t imagine them sitting up there alone. And then I thought about other allies in the same situation and how *that* would feel — it felt odd.

      I still wasn’t proud of my response, but it was real.


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