A Room Full of Women

Becca Barrus

Building confidence, promoting achievements, driving diversity … oh my!

Let’s start off with a 60-second dance party!” I’m not big on dancing, especially several hours before noon in a lit room full of people I don’t know. And yet when the speakers of the “Finding Your Voice as a 911der Woman” session at NAVIGATOR 2021 in Las Vegas (Nevada, USA) started playing music, I found myself shimmying and laughing along with everyone else. What seemed like a silly way to begin a class actually ended with me feeling more connected with the other attendees.

I got to express myself in a way I normally wouldn’t, which was what the session was all about—how to speak up and be heard as a woman in a profession where most of the employees are women (around 70% according to NENA’s Women in 911 group) and most of the leaders and first responders are men.

Halcyon Frank (The Dispatch Lab), Sara Weston (911der Women), Christina Votipka (National Park Service), and Wendy Lotman (Las Vegas Fire & Rescue) took turns discussing barriers that women in 911 face and how to overcome them. For instance, there’s the barrier of women being perceived as “too emotional” to make rational decisions. While, yes, tensions in the agency or the field can run high and decisions can have such enormous impacts that one’s body goes into “fight-or-flight mode” (the brain turns off rational thinking to give more energy to the body to either beat up the metaphorical tiger or run away from it), this effect happens to men, too. The panelists advised the attendees to be able to recognize when their bodies go into that mode and wait until the cortisol levels come down before voicing their thoughts to avoid saying something they might regret.

Additionally, even if you aren’t necessarily a leader in your dispatch center, you’re still an expert in something, whether it’s training, protocol, GIS navigation, or something else. (NENA’S WIN session covered this as well.) If you’re in a meeting and you’re worried about speaking up because the other people in the room have more experience than you as supervisors or managers, don’t be afraid to list off your own personal area of expertise before giving your comment.

Speaking up in a room where you’re worried you won’t be listened to can be scary and vulnerable (much like dancing around a bunch of strangers). It helps to have tips and tricks in your pocket to help you build your confidence in small ways. It also helps to have a room full of women on your side who know what you’re experiencing.

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