“Stay quiet, listen and keep your head down. Try not to stand out.” Those were the words of advice I was given when I started out in my career.
Many women have been taught to avoid controversy, to fit in and lay low. It can work to your advantage being a team player. But it does not work when you want to shape your identity and shine a light. And laying low does not help when the odds are stacked against you and bosses and colleagues are treating you unfairly.
I have been following an ongoing news investigation about sexual harassment at the highest levels of the wine industry, the Court of Master Sommeliers. Earning the designation “Master Sommelier” is the equivalent of earning a Ph.D. It can take years to achieve at considerable personal investment.
Women sommeliers revealed in a New York Times article they were bullied and coerced into sex by male members of the Court who held leadership roles for years. Resignations and suspensions, plus a rather limp statement from the Court, followed. A few women Master Sommeliers resigned in protest. A letter signed by 27 women members of the Court apologized to their fellow colleagues for not doing enough to support them and for not speaking out earlier.
Alpana Singh, the youngest woman in the world to become a Certified Sommelier at age 21 and a Master Sommelier by her mid-20s, is among those who have resigned in protest. Singh shared her regret for keeping silent after years of being bullied in this blog post, “They Didn’t Ask” http://www.
Singh also shared this in a Chicago Tribune interview (link) “We don’t realize the insidious social programming to stay silent, to not make a ruckus, to do whatever we need to do to stay within the boundaries, and it’s a self-preservation method. … Where my guilt lies and where my complicitness lies is I did what was the most comfortable thing for both sides.”
Harassment is systemic in many industries. If women don’t speak up and take action, this will continue. Instead of telling young girls to “stay out of trouble,” “keep your head down,“ and “don’t make waves,” we should teach young girls to stand tall, raise their heads high and have the confidence and conviction to speak up rather than stay silent. We are taught that to disobey and misbehave are bad, but not if they are done with good intent to encourage and support others, facilitate progress and find a better way.
How can women progress with their heads down, looking the other way and mouths shut? Enough is not enough. There is a better way starting with using our voices.
We now have the first women Vice-President- elect, Kamala Harris, who has broken ground for women of all backgrounds. Her confident style and voice confirm that we, as women, must keep our heads up and be ready to speak out in order to challenge the establishment and facilitate positive change.
Let’s keep making waves. Heads up!
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