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Women Talk: Who Listens?

Enormous thanks to Stevie Staconis and Sarah Bray for the opportunity to present at the inspiring Bâtonnage Forum 2019 held on Saturday May 4th in Napa, California.

The sessions were not recorded on video. But many of you have asked for a copy of my speech, so here it is transcribed and I hope you find practical tips and insights to apply in your daily work life. If you’re interested in staying in touch or becoming part of the ABG community, please email me at rebecca@abalancedglass.com or Join the Tribe here to stay connected and updated on what we are up to.

Keep doing the work. Keep showing up. Keep believing. You’re in the right place.

12 years ago, I arrived to the US to take on a newly created executive public relations role for a corporate wine company. I left a senior job and successful career in Australia, but here? I was an unknown PR person with no media contacts, no professional network, no alumni or sorority, and no idea what I was in for.  

I had a pixie short haircut, spoke in a thick accent that many colleagues parodied, and I hated being here.

But I was tasked with recruiting and running the best wine communications team in the U.S. and I had to deliver.

Let’s just say that in the first couple of months I learned what NOT to do:

  • Don’t challenge a senior executive on their choice of plastic bottled water when you believe that San Francisco tap water is better for the environment.

  • Don’t show people what you thought was a harmless photograph that gets you dragged into Human Resources to outline the vast cultural differences from home.

  • Don’t question how or why your male colleagues, also on visas, received financial benefits that weren’t offered in your benefits package. 

Sure I was “talking”, but the only people listening were concerned HR staff and senior leadership. Not an ideal audience for long-term success.  

These situations went against everything I had been taught by mentors and bosses – to be assertive, to question the norm, to ask for what was fair, and have a voice. The skills that had got me here were not going to take me further. Being stripped of what little confidence I had in this new country was hard, and it left me questioning everything.

I felt like the problem child that no one was talking to, let alone listening to. I found myself asking why I had given up my home, my relationship, and moved my life for a situation that was not looking good. I also realized that speaking up had its own risks, and there was an imbalance of power and structure that I could not overcome.

So I had to dig deep quickly, and go to that place that not even Google Maps or WAZE will get you to.  I had to do some serious introspection to understand where things had gone awry. 

If I could reset myself, maybe I could have a future here. But it would take me to harness exactly what I had nothing of:

Confidence. 

But what do I mean by confidence? To me, confidence is a marker or a signal that this is a person you need to take seriously.

But how do you get it? I believe that confidence is a professional decision. We make the conscious decision to FIND it and to USE it.

A globally respected wine CEO recently told me that before every big presentation, he would lock himself in the men’s room and put on his symbolic matador suit. It gave him confidence to go into the bullring and fight.

Of confidence, an actress friend said to me: they don’t pay to see me be insecure, they pay to see me be a star”.

I don’t know many women who come to this industry thinking, “This is going to be a walk in the park.” Confidence for most of us isn’t something that comes naturally.

And how many of us have faked confidence just to get through a situation?  Or have faked it when we have no idea what we’re even good at?  I realized that having the PERCEPTION of confidence was going to be critical in my survival.

SO WHAT DID I DO?

Meg Lewis