Experienced CEO and founder of How Women Lead, venture capitalist and sought-after speaker on female entrepreneurship.
I’m seeing more professional women stepping up and supporting one another. I’m all here for it. And I’m here to accelerate it.
I believe we all need a hype woman or a team of hype women. We need someone in our corner backing us up and saying, “You’ve got this.” Importantly, if we want to see more women, particularly women of color, in business, government and venture capital, it’s critical we embrace this idea. From my perspective, women actively promoting and celebrating one another’s achievements en masse can help counteract the systems holding us back from leadership.
So, what is a hype woman, and how can they help change the face of corporate America?
Dee Poku Spalding shared in Marie Claire in 2019 how, after listening to her friend speak about venture capital funding, she recognized the need for more people to invest in Black women. To change the system, she became what I consider a “hype woman,” and, using her voice and her platform, she started an initiative that supports Black women founders. I believe we all need a Dee, and we can all be a little bit more like Dee. So, how do we get there?
1. Find networks centering on women of color, join them and listen.
Professionals use their networks to access deal flow, find potential board candidates and ask for recommendations for the C-suite. But from my perspective, unless we intentionally expand our networks and find diverse candidates, we aren’t going to see a massive change in where venture capitalists invest or the number of board seats going to women of color.
Expand your network. Find places where leadership actively seeks to center many different women’s voices—Black, Latinx, Asian, immigrants, LGBTQIA+, first-in-family college graduates, etc. You’ll learn more about what works, and you also have a chance of accessing increased profits and performance that come with having diverse views at the table.
2. Be fierce advocates for one another.
From my perspective, women won’t get to parity in any position without being fierce advocates for one another. Once you are in networks that lift up women, particularly women of color, be the first to recommend them. Don’t let another woman’s ideas get talked over or her contributions be ignored. Consistently give credit back and recenter the conversation.
Fierce advocacy requires resilience and persistence; we are moving against centuries of ingrained bias. According to Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit organization, at a conference in 2017, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice.” Ginsburg added, “… If there are enough people” to do the work.
Fierce advocacy means you speak up even when there are objections; when it takes courage; and when it costs you effort, time and political capital to promote another woman. It means standing up for her when others aren’t being kind. A troubling gap between action and allyship exists: While “more than three-quarters of white employees consider themselves allies to women of color at work, less than half take basic allyship actions such as speaking out against bias or advocating for new opportunities for women of color,” according to McKinsey & Co.’s 2021 Women in the Workplace report. Catch yourself and others, and do the opposite.
3. Say “yes” to helping one another.
At my company, when we ask women who makes the most introductions for their career advancement, they often say more men than women. We need to change this. We can only win when there are more women at the table. I find that three is a magic number. When at least three diverse members are on a board, there is often support and understanding, and the weight of speaking up can be lifted.
Sponsor women, and make introductions. Mentoring is valuable, but women really lack sponsors who will speak up for them for that next promotion and opportunity.
Say “yes” to helping other women, clear a path for them, suggest women you know for different roles and introduce them to other people who can be important to their careers.
4. Be unabashedly visible.
Here’s the thing: You are incredible. Yet, talking about just how incredible you are goes against cultural norms. As lawyer and author Andie Kramer wrote in a Forbes article, many women find it challenging to “promote themselves in obvious and effective ways” because women are often taught at an early age to be reserved and avoid being “boastful, self-assertive, or prideful.” There is also a likeability penalty for women who are successful.
This is where the power of the hype woman truly unfolds. Who can you tap and say, “Publish your expert opinion on LinkedIn?” Whose expertise should be quoted by reporters? After all, men are quoted more often in the media for political and business topics. Can you encourage more women to be an expert resource? Support and encourage women to raise their voices through writing, speaking and social media. I believe this can help other people see them.
5. Reinforce women’s voices.
Once women have shared their voice, reinforce it in meetings, on social media and at conferences.
The women of President Obama’s administration learned to do this to great effect when they were collectively being passed over in key meetings in the White House. Despite being “in the room,” their expert opinion was not being sought or heard. They adopted a practice they called “amplification,” where women would repeat one another’s important points if they weren’t heard and credit the speaker or author.
Accomplished and senior women amplifying other women’s voices changed the game in the Obama White House. Take a page out of this playbook to amplify and reinforce the women’s voices that are not being heard in your organization.
Collectively, I believe women can push gender and racial equity in the workplace lightyears ahead by adopting the behavior of a “hype woman,” and we will all be better off for it.
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