“Find your voice. Because when you do, you join many other women in business who have come before you, who stand beside you, and who have yet to get a seat at the table.”
NAWBO Was Founded By Women
Who Wanted to Be Heard
Jennifer Masi, President of NAWBO Chicago, and Principal and Director of Creative Services for Torque
Can you hear me? That’s probably been a question for generations of women.
NAWBO Chicago’s theme this year is engagement - a word that means commitment, that all-in experience when you’ve given and received and somehow your world is better for it. Our theme runs parallel with many women’s voices broadcast loudly and poignantly through the #MeToo movement, women’s marches, and many thoughtful conversations across the country. It was fascinating to see Time magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year being named as “The Silence Breakers” — five women who publicly shared their stories about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
Turn back the clock to 1975. I wasn’t there when a group of business women in the D.C. area got together and started what is now the voice of 10.1 million women business owners, but I can only imagine what our NAWBO founders must have felt: we are not being heard.
I was thinking about what brought us to this point and came to a conclusion: Before somebody else can hear you, you have to find your own voice. I have a personal story about that.
Early in my career, I thought I needed to act more like a man. I would shake hands like a football player. I made my point lightning quick. And that gorgeous painting on the wall? No way would I comment on its beauty. The role I played sidelined the person I was (a self-admitted girly girl).
The “big act” ended when I opened my first design firm, Flutter. I let go of the male persona (it’s exhausting and disappointing to be someone else). My soft skills rose to the top. Then came that one unforgettable day I nearly got fired by a client (in front of an audience of five, I might add).
There were four men, one woman and myself in the room. I asked them to imagine their brand. What are its values? What does it eat? What does it dress like? Suddenly, one of the men stopped me, leaned forward, and asked: “Do you have a point with this?” The room fell silent, and I saw my choice. Pack it up, keep going or — be heard. I explained my approach and challenged his rebuke.
There’s a surprising end to this story. We’ll come back to that. But here’s the larger point: There are moments we as women are challenged in business. That’s when the voice of one becomes the voice of many.
NAWBO Chicago is making big leaps for women to be heard. Our new partnership with 1871, a co-working space in the Merchandise Mart for technology start-ups and entrepreneurs, will feature members as workshop facilitators, event speakers, panelists, and mentors. Some NAWBO TALKS (TED-like talks featuring prominent Chicago-area thought leaders) also will be hosted at 1871.
On May 1, Christie Hefner will receive NAWBO Chicago’s first-ever Voice Award at the 2018 Celebration of Achievement luncheon at the Mid-America Club. Her keynote speech alone is a no-miss event.
About my story earlier, well, I found my voice with my client and we finished the creative exercise. I challenged myself in a moment when I really just wanted to shut down. But I didn’t. I got my message through. I was heard. When I presented my work a few weeks later, the client who saw no point in my approach loved the results and said: “This was the best process ever.”
Find your voice. Because when you do, you join many other women in business who have come before you, who stand beside you, and who have yet to get a seat at the table.
NAWBO represents the collective voice of over 10.1 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. and seeks to advance the interests of all women entrepreneurs across all industries. Visit www.nawbo.org/chicago for more information.