Voice of a woman feature

The Voice of a Woman

One of the best news stories of the year so far, was the return of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after 6 years imprisoned or held in Iran.

She and her husband Richard Ratcliffe held a press conference in Westminster, and I was stunned at how composed and articulate she was after her ordeal. And also, how fearless she was in her criticism of the UK Government. She appeared to speak without notes and even disagreed with her husband in public (whilst also thanking him for his incredible campaigning to bring her home).

It would have been completely understandable if Zaghari-Ratcliffe had appeared tearful, and ready to give an Oscar-style thank you speech and no more, but that is clearly not her style.

I particularly noticed this because I am suddenly aware of lots of calls for women to find their voices, be inspired by women in history, and speak more in public.

Voice of a WomanRecently, waiting for a train, I was browsing the book section in Oliver Bonas, a fashion and knickknacks shop. I was stunned to realise I was looking at a shelf and half of the books were about women speakers. From beautiful books about the words of Michelle Obama and Dolly Parton to ‘She Speaks’ Yvette Cooper’s anthology of women’s speeches that changed the world.

I also found comedian Viv Groskop’s book ‘How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking’. Groskop is not looking at the words you use but the mindset you need to acquire, to speak up as a woman. I have found no new tricks in her book, but it is an easy, entertaining read with a clear theme that speaking in public is something you can learn.

Seven years ago, a New York Times article written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant was headlined ‘Speaking While Female’. It pulled together a raft of evidence that shows often when women do speak up at work they are spoken over or ignored. I wonder if that is true today? I meet so many impressive women it is hard for me to judge.

‘Speaking While Female’ is now the name of one woman’s project to put together a Women’s Speech Bank. American former journalist and now executive coach, Dana Rubin pops up daily on my LinkedIn feed. Her purpose is explained on her website:

Voice of a woman

Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State

Historically women have not been silent, but their words have scarcely been noted in the history books. What they said was seldom valued, recorded, or remembered…..It’s time to change that. Because it wasn’t just “great men” who gave great speeches in history. 

And in the week as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe stepped briefly into the limelight, another slipped out. The world lost Madeleine Albright – the first woman to hold the post of US Secretary of State, who died at 84. “She famously said in an interview with Huffington Post in 2010 “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to remain silent”.

I am privileged in my work to help people including many women, to find their voices: to overcome nerves, to stand proudly facing forwards using a few tricks of the trade to lead an audience through an argument in a way that is clear and memorable. But perhaps there is more that can be done to help under-confident women to develop a voice? Answers on a postcard, please…


Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – YouTube
Madeleine Albright -https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Madeleine_Albright_(30716699231).jpg
slgckgc, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


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