Nomen in Leadership: A Curvy Professional Speaker Moment.
Testing 1… 2… 3…
“Please welcome to the stage, Louise Williams!”
I was speaking at an event just a few months prior to covid hitting Australia when we were all still doing in-person presentations.
I walked up onto the stage, about to deliver my keynote “How to be a Unicorn in a Field of Horses”. A sea of faces stared back at me. The spotlights were so bright. My heart was thumping through my chest. And then my greatest fear began! Small drips of nervous sweat started running down the side of my face. My ‘lizard brain’ kicked off into overdrive while I tried to stay present and calm…
They will see me sweating.
They’ll think I’m not confident!
At that moment, my ‘lizard brain’ was deceiving me. It was reinforcing this moment as “proof” of all the things I’ve been told throughout my life. That my weight speaks volumes about my competency as a person and as a leader, and that me sweating is now amplifying that judgement even moreso.
My ‘lizard brain’ was doing only what it knew to be right based on millions of years of conditioning to keep me safe. At that moment, it was simply trying to protect me from doubts and judgements from others. It was encouraging me to play SMALL. Tone back my quirkiness. To be relatable. Not to draw attention to my discomfort of sweating under the bright lights on stage. To try and fit in as best as possible.
The Lizard Brain
My ‘lizard brain’ can turn this curvy woman into knots! Despite all of the personal development and counselling and coaching I have gifted to myself, my lizard brain can set me off with the simplest of triggers.
These are some of the fun statements that I have had said to me in the past, and have become part of my mindset and conditioning, particularly when I try to stretch outside of my comfort zone. I might add that some of these statements below have also been said to me by other women, cloaked in “helpful advice”, but instead subtly putting me “in my place”.
“They won’t take you as seriously, because you are overweight”
“Bigger women are lazy”
“Curvy women can’t rise up in positions of power”
“Bigger women don’t have anything helpful to share, when they can’t even get their own body healthy”
‘Is this mic on? hello?’
OK, let’s get something straight ‘lizard brain’ (AND for all the arm-chair critics in the back row…)
Curvy women are strong, wise and totally powerful as badass leaders!
We’ve faced many challenges and fought many internal (and external) battles! There are glass ceilings and challenges and generational narratives that women, in general, need to break through and advance beyond. Curvy women face double the challenges. For curvy women in leadership, there are glass ceilings within other glass ceilings, challenges layered upon other challenges, and generational narratives intersecting other narratives that are perpetuated by other women just as much as by men.
Curvy women face weight bias in their careers, promotions and in businesses. Research has shown that overweight workers are 12 times more likely to experience employment discrimination, obese workers 37 times and severely obese workers are 100 times more likely than other workers to experience workplace discrimination.
Other research has shown that “between 45 percent and 61 percent of top male CEOs are overweight (BMI between 25 and 29)” but “only 5 percent – 22 percent of top female CEOs were overweight.” It seems that businesses have a stronger preference towards overweight male leaders, compared to their curvy female counterparts. This is a challenge for women in leadership
Curvy female leaders are CEOs and scientists and nurses and lawyers and artists and auditors and journalists and authors and administration officers and innovators and speakers and teachers and yoga instructors and politicians and surgeons and managers and activists and farmers and athletes and mechanics and so much more.
The question is, what will it take to #breakthebias around curvy female leaders?
Let’s head back to the curvy me on centre stage delivering my keynote about “How to be a Unicorn in a Field of Horses”, with bright lights streaming down onto my sweaty face. The bias against curvy female leaders gets to be broken when more curvy women show up! As simple as that. We must show up, step up, stop being invisible and step out of the shadows. Start the conversation. We must get opinionated and shut down inequality.
It is when we are courageous and we back ourselves for showing up as perfectly imperfect, that we get to model for the audience and decision-makers and the arm-chair critics in the back row, that we are strong, wise and badass leaders who have something of value to contribute to the conversation! As we model what it’s like to be a badass curvy leader, we also get to show other curvy leaders who are still in the shadows, what it looks like to take back your personal power.
A special note to our female and male colleagues who are in support of us and all of our fabulousness, we encourage you to also speak up and advocate with us to #breakthebias.
Women in leadership
So thank you ‘lizard brain’ for trying to protect me, but this curvy-licious leading badass unicorn doesn’t need to tone it back anymore! It’s time to break the bias around curvy and women in leadership! Time to show up and make some noise! Who’s with me!?