What do illegally parked cars in New York City and an all-female space-walk have in common? Space – literally, physical space.

Let me elucidate. On March 26, NASA’s first all-female spacewalk was abandoned because they didn’t have enough correctly sized, fully safety-checked spacesuits on board to fit the female astronauts, so they could complete their mission. And the cars? Well, in New York City, large cars are more often found illegally parked than small cars; suggesting that owners of larger cars feel more confident about taking up more space, even when it isn’t theirs to take!

Throughout human history it has been the case that culturally, socially and economically women have been encouraged, nay required, to be ‘feminine’, which in reality means taking up less space physically and vocally than men. But what happens in 2020 when we play smaller? Take up less space? Don’t speak up? Our natural human desire of wanting to be seen and heard is diminished. We disempower ourselves and our message. Our confidence takes a hit and we start to turn down opportunities that might have been beneficial to our career, our message or our community. I’m going to shamelessly use some of the words from, “Take Up Space” by the awesome spit poet Vanessa Kissule to contend why we women should start taking up more space and make room for other female voices that deserve airtime.

Mind space

All great speakers work really hard on their mindset. Why? Well, our voice is created inside our body and our mind is a vital part of that. So everything that we are thinking will leak out through our bodies for our audience to observe.

We are often our own harshest critic. We know about Impostor Syndrome, we know 70% of us suffer from it, we are supportive of others when it rears its vicious head… but how supportive are we of ourselves?

How kind are we to ourselves when we make a mistake?

When was the last time you genuinely accepted compliment? Wholeheartedly accepted it, right into the core of you?

Give your voice the best chance of being heard by doing these two vitally important things:

  • Be your own mentor: Speak to yourself internally only how you would speak out loud to your friend or colleague; be truthful, compassionate and supportive, never unkind.
  • Don’t diminish compliments:  We all have a tendency to bat away or diminish compliments. Don’t. Accept them as truth – it will do wonders for your confidence.
Vocal space

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to give it a go? Or permission to make a mistake? Is not easy to be that carefree because we have fear of being misheard or that our “mistake” becomes extrapolated to our whole gender! But we have to ask, is it better to speak up and get something wrong, or keep quiet?

Speaking is an act of doing, just like riding a bike or juggling: if you don’t practice getting it wrong you aren’t learning how to do it better.

Fail upwards & Practice in Public.

  • Take up physical space: stand in a positive, open posture. If you find it challenging do it in low-risk environments first. If you are doing it more consistently choose a place, or person that you find more challenging and hold your space there.
  • Speak up even if you might get it wrong:  Adopt a growth mindset, move on owning the successes and learning from the mistakes.

“Don’t let the ghostly question marks haunt the end of your sentence”

One way we undermine our right to physical and vocal space is by using up-speak. This is when we use a rising tone of voice, as we might when asking a question, but using it when making a statement. Imagine listening to someone introducing themselves with a rising tone as they say their name, job title, the title of their presentation, or their proposed solution to a problem. The rising tone suggests to the listener that we are questioning ourselves, that we do not believe in either the solution or our ability to execute it, or we are looking to them to validate it’s potential. Our vocal tone has undermined our ideas and potential for success.

Give your ideas space to live and breathe.

  • When making a statement of fact use a falling tone of voice just like you would if you state “the car is red”.
  • Say ‘hello’ or ‘welcome’ rather than starting your speech with  “Hii”. The two-syllable words will help you with the falling tone.
  • This is a tricky habit to notice and therefore break, so record yourself and listen back. Get a supportive friend or colleague to give you honest feedback and encouragement.

“When asked your name

Pronounce it with all the music

You can squeeze from its syllables”

So often we fear being expressive at work. It’s just not British to enthuse and to express yourself. As a woman at work it can feel like dangerous territory. But, expressing emotion is not the same as uncontrolled emotion. Don’t be fearful of expressing a passionate commitment to your ideas. If you are not passionately committed to your idea then how can you expect anyone else to be?

 “Finally, rightfully, gloriously, TAKE UP SPACE”

Take up your space but in doing so make space for other women’s ideas and voices. Speak up about your worth and the worth of others. Disagree without being disagreeable. Don’t ever apologise for your ideas. Practice in public and fail upwards.

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