Shutting Up on International Women's Day


(From a post that went up on my Kobo CEO Slack channel #the-chief at midnight, at the very beginning of #InternationalWomensDay  in 2017.)

Last night, I was thinking about how best I as CEO should recognize this important day — a talk at town hall, an email to the whole company, a post on the blog? With the din of US political news, reports on lack of prosecution for sexual assaults in Canada, the Women’s March on Washington and in cities around the world, and so much more, there is a lot to talk about. I could fill pages and screens with what is yet to be done and needs to be done. But before I dove in, I asked my wife Laura what she thought I should do for International Women’s Day.

She said, “Maybe this time it’s not about you talking or writing. Maybe it’s about listening. Women are tired of being talked at, talked to, talked over, of having to shout to be heard. There are so many voices telling them to calm down or settle down or relax or stop overreacting. It’s all so loud. Regardless of their good intent, maybe the best thing that men could do on International Women’s Day is to shut up for the day. Give women time and space to be heard, to say what they want to say. Just listen.”

And at first I bristled at that. Why should I be quiet? Why should I have to shut up? But my fantastic wife is very very smart. And one of my best rules is that an idea that gets my back up is probably worth trying, because it’s outside of my comfort zone, where all the best learning happens.

So here’s what I’m going to do: today I’m turning the CEO’s Slack channel #the-chief over to the women of Kobo, to do with as you will. Talk about the women who inspired you or mentored you. Talk about the things that drive you crazy or give you hope. Talk about the workplace you want for yourself or the next generation to come. Talk about your mother or your grandmother. Talk about whatever, to each other or yourself. Today, #the-chief is all yours.

I’m just going to listen and take it in. I’ll shut up for the day and make some space, only answering if asked. I hope the men of Kobo do the same, and use this as an opportunity to get a window into how the women with whom they work think and feel. As a guy, does the idea of just listening get your back up? As a woman, does the idea of sharing your thoughts, feelings, memories or opinions out in public make you uncomfortable? Good. Then you’ve found the edge of your comfort zone. And that’s where we learn. Happy International Women’s Day, Kobo. Over to you.”

(Afterword: The posts, conversation, ideas, frustrations and hopes that have followed all day are absolutely amazing. Moving, heartfelt, and inspiring. Not mine to share, but I’m grateful to have had the chance to listen and learn.)

Michael Tamblyn