Women Say NO

John Bates

November 10, 2014

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I push the button to roll the window down and nothing happens. "Oh, yeah." I say with a wide grin, looking over at my wife, "it makes sense that the windows don't go down in an armored vehicle." She smiles at me from beneath her hajib, the headscarf she is wearing now that we've actually arrived in Yemen, and her eyes glow with the excitement and anxiety, we both feel.

After days of traveling we have finally arrived in Taiz for TEDxTaiz, where I have been invited to speak and asked to coach some of the other speakers, as well. Although every western government on the planet said we shouldn't go, Sharon and I talked about it and decided that the opportunity to connect with people and make a difference mattered more to us than our fear. Of course, once we told our friends we were going, they all started sending us every bit of news out of Yemen, most of which was bad. And, now, we're here and riding in an armored Land Cruiser on our way to the hotel where we'll be staying.

We had a true abundance of amazing experiences, but one stands out for me in the context of women and speaking. The first time I assembled with all the other speakers, we went through the program and began coaching the organizers. And the speakers were quite proud of the fact that there was a 50/50 mix of men and women who would be taking the stage. Pardon me for being blunt, but this in a country that is not generally known for it's leadership role in women's rights.

So, although almost half of the women who would be speaking would be wearing the full veil, the program was evenly divided between men and women.

And that got me thinking because that is something that rarely, if ever, happens at TEDx events in the US and Europe. Now, I know a lot of TEDx organizers and many of them are women. I also know they're the kind of people who are committed to things like gender equality and having great ideas be heard. So I made some calls when I returned from Yemen and I confirmed a sneaking suspicion that I had.

I realize there are a lot of reasons for this. And, I do not wish to minimize the difficulty of dealing with those reasons. AND, I believe that there is an important lesson in this, so here I go.

Finish my sentence for me: When TEDx organizers in the US and Europe ask 10 men to speak, 9 say yes. When TEDx organizers in the US and Europe ask 10 women to speak... Go ahead, you know the answer... That's right. When TEDx organizers in the US and Europe ask 10 women to speak, 9 say NO. And, I understand there are a myriad of reasons for this. Even myriad good reasons for this, but here's the part I think we need to think about. When those 9 women say NO, they get to make NO DIFFERENCE.

I hear from a lot of women I work with about things like seeming "braggy," or feeling like they need to be "more of an expert" before they actually get up on stage. And I totally get that! I have let it stop me in the past, too! And, here is the real point, as I see it, if you want to make a difference you have to get over it. Get over it and say YES. Put yourself on that stage, say what's in your heart, share the things that had them ask you in the first place, be willing to be the person who makes a difference.

Brene Brown's two speeches at TED would be great to watch right now. She talks about being willing to be vulnerable and authentic and she talks about how being willing to fail is crucial to actually succeeding.

I know it's scary. I know you're not as much of an expert as you could conceivably be, I know that you have a lot of other things going on right now. Here's what I'd ask you: Is it important to you? If not, don't worry about it. It's not important. But, if it's important to you, really important, then be willing to say YES and go make a difference.

John Bates is the founder and chief executive officer at Executive Speaking Success and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company.

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