Many women of color are raised to be seen, not heard. Whether that means "stay in a child's place" or "a lady should do this thing, or that thing", the reality is the mental and emotional impact of being seen, not heard extends far beyond what those who raised us intended.
When we consider the lack of diversity in the tech industry (and certainly if we narrow it down to cybersecurity), what we see is a manifestation of women of color being seen and not heard. Phrases from our childhood such as "keep your head down", "don't make a fuss", "do as you're told", "always be polite", "smile and nod", "don't talk back" although likely intended for our safety, given our history, tend to have a damaging and lasting impact on our psyche that follows us into adulthood.
Be seen, not heard... Let's unpack this.
For me, the statement is one that completely strips us of our voice, which strips us of our power. Those of us fortunate enough to find our voice, sometimes continue to struggle with if, or how much we should use it (imposter syndrome).
We have to break the cycle. We, as women of color must be seen AND heard. It is the only way we will be able to institute meaningful change in the industry and in the world.
I have personally gone through the struggle. There was a time when I truly believed no one cared about what I had to say, so I said nothing; I was neither seen nor heard. Eventually, I made the decision to find my voice, but when I found it, I kept it to myself.
I can't tell you when this happened, but one day I spoke, and someone made me feel like I mattered, so I spoke a little more. The more I spoke, I noticed I was beginning to be seen, and even felt a little heard . My confidence began to rise, so I started to speak up just a little more; still wondering, however, why people listened to me and if others actually wanted to hear from me (imposter syndrome).
Ultimately I continued down the path of remaining true to myself and transitioned from tip-toeing into situations, to kicking the door in and saying "any questions?" with a bright and empowered smile. Has imposter syndrome gone away? No. But I manage it. Am I always confident in the outcome of the things I try? No. But I try anyway.
To those of you who have found your voice and made the challenging decision to claim, own, and boldly plant your feet on the pedestal of your power, my first message to you is, bravo. Bravo because forging your own path and shutting out the naysayers is hard. Bravo because standing in your own truth, owning your gifts and believing in yourself and what you have to offer the world is hard. Bravo because exuding a level of confidence that drives others to believe in what you have to offer the world at times feels damn near impossible. I salute you.
Now, my second message to you... represent. Show other women of color struggling to find their voice that it can be done. Help other women of color who have found their voice become comfortable with being uncomfortable; help them claim their power and boldly plant their feet. We WILL make a difference; ALL of us. A difference that will impact our daughters, our daughters' daughters, as well as their daughters and granddaughters for years to come.
And someday... we will ALL be seen, and we will ALL be heard. Let's be the change we want to see.
An empowered, seen, and heard woman of color.