Susan Macaulay speaking last year on gender parity at TEDxAjman. "TED suffers a dearth of women speakers on its worldwide stages. That's an issue. But it's also an opportunity," says Susan.
After observing that women have trouble taking credit for their success, and therefore miss out on a lot of opportunities, Canadian-born Susan Macaulay grew frustrated. As a public speaking coach and as a woman, she was also disturbed by the fact that the TED conferences, one of the most progressive movements of our time, did not have gender balance among their conference speakers. So what did she do about this?
Susan, who now lives in Dubai, launched an online community to inspire women to take pride in their accomplishments and celebrate the hopes, dreams, voices and lives of women around the world. It's called AmazingWomenRock.
"Women are not a special interest group, we comprise at least half, if not more, of the world's population. And yet we are not clearly heard. Worse, our voice is often actively stifled," says Susan.
The site, now three-and-a-half years old, has over 2000 pages of content, including short stories, videos, poetry, music, humor and pearls of wisdom - all from and about women. Voted one of ForbesWoman's 'Top 100' Websites for Women in 2011, Susan is pleased with the growth and recognition of AmazingWomenRock. "Women rock. In every sense of the word," says Susan.
With this said, even though women may have a lot of knowledge and expertise and do their job really well, they tend to underestimate and undervalue their own skills and abilities. "Women are socialized and educated to not believe in themselves, and to not believe in their own worth," she says.
To try and make a change with respect to this problem, Susan began giving public speaking workshops just for women. In one instance, she had a woman in her workshop who had been in a job at a major international bank for about a year. During that year, the woman had been publicly humiliated by her male superiors on a regular basis. As a result, she was absolutely terrified to speak. Prior to this, she had been a great speaker, and described herself as being full of confidence. But when she stood up to speak at Susan's workshop, she couldn't breathe and was physically choking. "I don't know what happened to me," she said.
"When you get a constant barrage of people telling you that you don't measure up, that you don't have what it takes, that everything that you are doing is wrong, then after a while you begin to believe it. You start echoing those very same things that you've heard."
Hence, the launch of Susan's Twitter account, @SheQuotes. This is a place where women and men can get accustomed to seeing and hearing women's voices. Susan said that one of the tipping points for creating this account was when did a search on Twitter using the hashtag #quote. She discovered that 85 percent of all the quotes in the #quote hashtag were attributed to men. She thought: "Okay, what can I do about that? What difference can I make as one person?"
So she started the account and invited women to send her quotes. She also went to women's profiles and took their words, put them in quotes and started tweeting them. Women then wrote to her saying, "Oh My God. I'm wise. I'm smart. I have something worthwhile to say."
Another inspiration for @SheQuotes came from what Susan experienced when she attended a conference in Dubai for professional women. Although it was a conference to empower women, most all of the 15 women panelists quoted men and gave examples of success stories about men to illustrate their points.
"I see this all the time," Susan says. "You go to a feminist blog and you look at the quote at the top and it's a guy! And I just think -- hang on -- if you are promoting women, then you've got to put women at the fore."
Susan is doing just that. She has curated more than 2500 quotes from women on her Twitter account and now has close to 30,000 followers. "I would like to be able to increase the number of quotes attributed to women on those Twitter hashtag streams to 50 percent," she says.
"I think when women start to quote women, when women start to use other women as examples, when women tell success stories about other women, that will make the difference."
Susan, once painfully shy and terrified of public speaking, was able to overcome it. "When there is someone that believes in that person who is fearful -- someone who respects that person -- that energy and that belief somehow helps that person. They only need a couple of wins and then they are fine." That's the beauty of the AmazingWomenRock and @SheQuotes communities. They respect and believe in women.
Men are also encouraged and welcome to submit quotes by women and stories about women.
Top photo courtesy of Susan Macaulay.