Take 5: How Telling Your Story Is a Tool For Change

Neon sign that says "Change"

Photo credit: Ross Findon for Unsplash.com

Sharing our personal experiences is an effective tool for social change. “Listening to people’s stories and building relationships is the basis of movements,” says Emma Mayerson, Founding Executive Director at Alliance for Girls, an alliance of leaders and activists dedicated to supporting girls and young women in a community of more than 300,000. “Share your story and own your narrative; those stories are the tool to reform the system.”
Take for example activist Tarana Burke, who started the #MeToo movement to raise awareness of sexual abuse and solidarity for victims after being impacted by the personal stories of survivors.
“When girls tell their [painful] stories; there is much less shame, there is an innate understanding that this is not my fault. This is not who I am, this is the society that I live in,” says Emma. “If we don’t get a chance to tell our stories, we internalize, and that makes us feel more shame. More chance of self-destruction, less chance of changing the system.” Here is her advice for using your story to build positive change.
1. Activate the power of the pack. A woman alone has power; collectively we have impact. By sharing your story, you have the chance to create community. “If a safe, authentic community of relationships rally around a story, it can effect systematic change.”
2. Connect and collaborate. With support from others, Emma points out how “we can collaborate on legislation” and lobby for meaningful causes. Alliance for Girls started in this way, when six founding members who represent diverse organizations simply came together. “We asked, what connects us?” and addressed, “platforms for systemic change, with the unique perspective of girls and their stories.”
3. Embrace the feminine mindset. Traits traditionally considered feminine, such as collaboration and empathy, have been largely ignored in the workplace—and the world. Activating them will help women create the change they want to see. Emma outlines feminine values as “collaboration, fearlessness, inclusivity and self-care.” The feminine skillset also includes networking and relationship building. These values start as “a mindset” of overcoming obstacles and being fearless. It is about “unapologetically embracing the feminine,” says Emma.
4. Create the space for change. Challenging the status quo requires creating a safe space where your community can ask tough questions. If you want to create change at a company for example, Emma suggests asking, “Do you have that network to effect change?” “Do you have the ability to get to know each other and create safe spaces?” “Do you have an advocacy arm that ensures something will be done?” That’s why we started the Girls’ Lounge, to give women a safe space to connect, collaborate, and activate change together.
5. Take the first step—and then keep going. Emma also reassures us that getting involved in major change is not out of reach for anyone. “Start small and meet [others interested in your cause], then go bigger from there.” What is important is “starting to recognize each other and getting to know each other.”
We can all be leaders, regardless of age, title or level. Own your story, use your voice and work together to advance equality. For more on social change:
Jess Weiner On The Importance Of Visibility In Our Culture
Heide Gardner On How To Help Drive Change
Laura Molen On Having A Voice In Gender Equality