I watched in discomfort as the mayor reached for the piece of paper that was in my hands. He took ahold of the page, raised it to the crowd and said something like (and I paraphrase): “Well these aren’t like any speaking notes I’ve ever seen.”
The two of us were speaking on a panel for the Halifax business community. It was the usual crowd of business leaders. My speaking notes, on the other hand, were anything but usual – hearts drawn in the middle of the page, a mindmap of ideas and sentiments I wanted to share, all written in a rainbow of colours.
The only woman amongst the other four community leaders on the panel, I was determined to speak with strength of voice, authenticity and confidence that was undeniably me.
That didn’t mean boning up on well-known theories or recent political commentary; it meant injecting heart, soul, feelings, emotions and… colourful inspiration into how I represented my thoughts to this crowd of business peers.
That was four years ago and, since then, I’ve settled into my heart-centred ways and now have joined the ranks of women who, both publicly and quietly, speak up for the need to change how we see the world; women who are talking about prioritizing vulnerability and tenderness, putting collaboration ahead of competition and shedding the veneer many of us have grown accustomed to wearing.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, there is a growing contingent of women who are reshaping our collective perspectives and language. You’ll find them on social media with hundreds of thousands of followers. You’ll find them on bookshelves, giving voices of the establishment a run for their money. And you’ll find them in blog posts, YouTube videos, TED talks and inboxes, changing the conversation word-by-word and post-by-post.
Read more from our International Women's Day edition of Now Atlantic
Each of these women are anything but thin-skinned or diminutive and they absolutely are not trite. With their unwavering voices, their words challenge existing power structures, call out efforts to build empires, protect territories or preserve egos. Their words and ideas demand that each of us – women and men alike – simply be better, more real humans.
Perhaps most importantly, they make it safe for women like me to use the words that are the loudest in our heads and hearts. Following their brave-hearted voices, I can communicate ideas using language that’s not of the patriarchy. I can write notes with hearts and coloured pens and not feel embarrassed. And I can use words like caring, togetherness, love, compassion and empathy in my business and personal life and not feel that I am somehow too soft or weak for this world.
If you’re wondering whether that’s liberating and unshackling, my response is, "hell yes." Which means my gratitude runs deep for each and every woman who is making it easier for us to be, well, women.
If you haven’t yet crossed paths with these women I speak of, I’d encourage you to go on a mission of curiosity to find them. At the very least you’ll find it enlightening. I’m betting you’ll find it inspiring.
Here are just a few of my favourites who speak about showing up as your whole self, being courageous in the face of fear, choosing love above all else and speaking with the roar of a strong woman:
- Elizabeth Gilbert
- Glennon Doyle
- Brene Brown
- Danielle LaPorte
- Marie Forleo
- Cheryl Strayed
- Abby Wambach
Colette O’Hara is the Chief Strategy Officer for SaltWire Network. She is a design thinker who focuses her daily work on making business just a little more human.