Does you voice matter less when you’re not part of an organization?
This became part of my consciousness back in 2012 when I attended the Strong Families Summit. I was invited to assist with Strong Families’ social media team to highlight the goals of the Initiative, the participants’ general feedback, and how the Initiative can move forward.
As attendees introduced themselves, they shared the basics (name, organization, preferred gender pronouns, and their intention for being present at the Summit), and as they shared the name of their organization, there were a few attendees that said:
“My name is [insert name], and I’m representing myself” or
“I’m [insert name], and I work with [insert name of organization], but I’m speaking on behalf of myself”.
Of course, in discussions around issues pertaining to sexual health and reproductive justice, or any topic that may be controversial, it’s important to raise our own voices. It’s also important to be mindful that what we say may have an impact on whatever group or organization we’re representing.
When I was part of an organization as a front line social worker and direct service provider, my actions and interactions with clients either had a positive or negative effect not only my clients’ impression of me but also that of my organization. Now, as someone who runs her own business, I’ve been able to reflect on the fact that I’m fortunate enough to be representing myself apart from an agency or organization. I’m able to flow in and out of multiple spaces and can be a social worker, program designer, speaker, or program evaluator at any given time, and I can be known for one aspect or all aspects of what I do.
Knowing this, I’m also mindful in how I represent my business in person, through email, or on social media, can impact who wants to work with me as a client. We definitely see this in today’s political climate, sports, and entertainment industries where people quickly lose their endorsements and support.
But back to the original question:
This question is important when it comes to leadership. It’s human nature to desire be in community with others. Whether it’s a work space, a place of worship, or based on demographics, we want to find ways in which we have commonalities.
Being part of a group can advance that group’s mission. Being part of a group helps you stay connected to others.
I also feel that being part of a group is highly correlated with “feeling legit” or “relevant”. This can be derived from social identity theory, where one’s self-concept is connected to perceived membership to a certain group. Also, we feel important when we can represent something that seems bigger than ourselves. Being part of a group helps people know who is at the table, so to speak. We can vet someone easier when they are from an organization whose work we’re familiar with.
While I do represent myself with my consulting business, I do belong to a number of other groups related to reproductive justice, feminism, social work, and evaluation. Some of these groups, I was asked to join based on a particular expertise or skill set I have, and others I self-selected into based on my interest.
When it comes to leadership, does you voice matter less when you’re not part of an organization? Yes and no.
Yes because some groups took me a while to gain access to because I wasn’t part of a similar group, and it was frustrating, especially when I was younger. This is frustrating when you want to raise your voice but don’t have an organization that you belong to. When you or your organization isn’t known to a collective, it can feel silencing.
And no because, in the age of social media, you can quickly build a name for yourself. While we still desire to be part of a community, we also see the value of stepping away from the pack to stand on our own. We see it all the time on social media: “These views/tweets don’t reflect my organization”. Some people use this as a buffer between themselves and the organizations they represent.
How can we raise our voices when we’re not part of a group? This is particularly important to younger, emerging leaders of the world whose voices should be validated.