Thursday 30th November 2023

Hear Her Voice - Presidential Campaign

The WISH Presidential campaign for 2023/24 is #HearHerVoice. WISH's President, Tracey McEachran, shares her insight and reflection on the importance of this campaign and equality of voice.


WISH Presidential Campaign For 2023/24

The WISH Presidential campaign for 2023/24 is #HearHerVoice. In this article the WISH President, Tracey McEachran, shares her insight and reflection on the importance of this campaign and equality of voice.

In a world that seems to constantly blur the lines between tradition and progression, a recent statement from Meryl Streep offers a profound perspective on gender dynamics:


"Women have learnt the language of men, women have lived in the house of men all of their lives, we can speak it.
You know how you learn a language; it isn’t really your language until you dream in it and the only way to dream it in is to speak it, and women speak men.
But men don’t speak women, they don’t dream in it."


I was moved by this statement. It paints a picture of a world where women have spent centuries adapting to male-dominated environments. This adaptation requires not just understanding, but also internalising male viewpoints, norms, and expectations. When one dreams in a language, it indicates deep immersion and comprehension. For women, this immersion has often been a necessity.

Throughout history, in many cultures, women have navigated spaces curated by and for men. Whether in politics, academia, or even familial structures, women's voices have frequently been overshadowed, leading them from necessity to learn the "language" of men to make their voices heard. This "language" is not just verbal communication but encompasses societal norms, behaviours, and expectations. To survive and succeed, many women have had to wear the lens of male understanding, even if it sometimes comes at the cost of suppressing their true selves.

I guess it comes as no surprise then, that when we held our first Hear Her Voice event online in July, we found that the number one reason women do not speak up in meetings or ask questions at conferences is for fear of looking stupid, silly or unintelligent.

Another expressed view from some of our participants was that women often find themselves in a Catch-22: If they're assertive, they may be perceived as aggressive, while if they're reserved, they may be viewed as lacking initiative or drive. This double bind can exacerbate the fear of judgment when speaking up. And certainly, some talked about how speaking up had got them into conflict, while others said they avoided speaking up for exactly that reason, that they wanted to avoid conflict.

In the world of housing, we appear to be as impacted as any other sector by the recurring issue that impacts productivity, inclusivity, and creativity, namely the reticence of many women to voice their opinions during meetings. Through my campaign #HearHerVoice and focusing a lens on the subject, it became clear the fear of appearing uninformed or "stupid" and a lack of confidence in their own insights and contributions are still holding women back.

The assertion that "men don’t speak women" implies a historical lack of societal pressure for men to step into women's shoes and truly understand their perspectives. And while this might hold true in many contexts, it's crucial to acknowledge the myriad of men who actively seek to understand, empathise with, and advocate for women's experiences. These men do "speak women", and they do so with genuine intentions. I am pleased to say it was wonderful to have men attend and fully participate in the July #HearHerVoice event.

We do need more male allies. There were other issues that made women feel unheard, and being spoken over was one. Saying something and being ignored, only then to have a man make the same comment later and be listened to is a common experience. We need to call out this behaviour.

I would recommend being respectful even if you feel disrespected and calling out the behaviour not the person. Something like “I have experienced this behaviour in our meeting and I would like to bring awareness to the dynamic that is unhealthy for the debate” or however you feel/think it is negatively impacting on you or the group.

So, what can we do actively to change the dynamics? Awareness is the first step. If you are leading a meeting or in a meeting, notice the dynamics and ask yourself certain questions.

Firstly comes awareness: what dynamics are playing out?

  1. Is everyone being heard?
  2. What does each person need to feel confident to speak? Please ask them rather than guess.
  3. Make it clear that you want to hear everyone’s voice, that no question is stupid and that it’s not only experts who have ideas, and that all ideas are welcome.

Secondly structure: look at the structure of your team meeting.

  1. Are you valuing running your meeting in the shortest time possible over the quality of the output? If that is the case you will not be making space for everyone’s voice.
  2. Does everyone know what they are valued for and why they are at the meeting?
  1. If you are asking for feedback break the team into smaller groups so everyone has to input. Then ensure you have an equal share of voice when each group feedback.
  2. Make sure you discuss team dynamics with the team and with individuals in their 1-2-1’s, find out what each person needs to feel safe to be heard.

In conclusion, the reluctance of many women to speak up in meetings is a complex issue, which is rooted in both individual and systemic factors. By understanding the depth and breadth of these challenges, we can take concrete steps to create more inclusive and empowering environments. Only by ensuring that all voices are heard can we hope to benefit from the full range of talents, insights, and perspectives that drive innovation and progress.

The beauty of modern society is its capacity for change. As we continue to shine a light on equality of voice, the opportunities arise for mutual understanding.

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