Below is the sixth installment in our series, Leading by Listening. In this series we explore multiple facets of listening and its role in organizational leadership.

An effective strategy for amplification of female voices among presidential staffers has been trending this week, along with some interesting research on gendered listening and unconscious bias. I have been leaning in to hear these perspectives and thinking of “my girls” from Girls Rock Campaign Boston (GRCB). It is well documented that as girls grow up they are socialized to become quieter than boys—in volume and in the amount of talking that they do. Girls are less likely to speak up during class, whether it’s to answer a math question or give an opinion on a book. When girls (and women alike) do share, they are more likely to use qualifiers, beginning a sentence with “I just think” or “Sorry, but…”.

Girls Rock Campaign Boston provides a powerful antidote to the societal messages quieting our girls. GRCB teaches girls to listen to each other and to feel confident being listened to. So what is Girls Rock? What’s it all about?

GRCB is a week long summer program for girls ages 8 to 17, focused on empowering girls and encouraging positive self esteem through rock-n-roll. Once signed up, participants learn an instrument (drums, keys, bass, guitar, or vocals), form a band, write a song, and perform for a packed house all in the space of a week. For the past three summers, I have had a front row seat to these experiences, as a volunteer for GRCB  in Boston. We volunteers try to support these girls and serve as role models as they gain confidence raising their voices and putting their creativity front and center.

It’s Okay to Be Listened To
One of the first things GRCB teaches girls is that true collaboration as a band requires the ability to listen to others and to yourself; you must be able to voice your opinions with consideration for your band mates but also with honesty and confidence. I saw this firsthand when the band I managed, aptly self-named Da Bo$$, began the process of writing their song. After an initial huddle about what the song should sound like, the guitarist returned with several verses. Her band mates liked the first verse, responding with positive feedback, but when the second verse exhibited a different style, the group was silent—no one felt comfortable voicing a negative opinion.

Over lunch each day, the girls heard from established female bands about how they built up the confidence to put their music out into the world and to advocate for themselves in a tough industry. With these talks as inspiration, and with my prodding, I watch the girls gradually move from silence to quiet, muttered comments to a fearlessness in sharing big ideas with the group. The drummer boldly proposed adding a rap towards the end of the song. The vocalist was able to be kind but firm in rejecting the guitarist’s suggestion to drastically change the bridge. The girls were learning that it is okay to lobby for your point of view and also to offer candid feedback to one another.

It’s Okay to Be Loud
On the day of the showcase, the girls were nervous. They had gained confidence playing in front of one another and sharing ideas with the group, but now they needed to go onstage and demand that everyone in the packed Brighton Music Hall listen to them. They needed to manifest the theme of their lyrics and exhibit confidence in themselves. However, most members of Da Bo$$ had never performed for anyone but family, and they were daunted by the prospect of rocking-out in front of 400 people. In response to the question, “Are you excited?!,” they would respond with a squint and “…I guess.” They waited on deck in silence. But the silence didn’t last long… The band on the stage finished up their song, and my five girls grabbed their instruments. After a brief hiccup in the intro, they were rocking their song for the enthusiastic audienceand they were having fun. By the time they left the stage, they were exhilarated and inspired.

The connections they had developed within the band and the supportive environment of GRCB helped these girls put their voices out there like this. GRCB shows them that it’s okay to be loud, to share their opinions, and not to apologize for speaking their minds. It teaches them to hear and be heard through their music and their voices. Each day, the afternoon assembly ends with a collective chant—the girls and volunteers alike shout “I ROCK” eight times at the top of their lungs. Let’s find more ways to make sure our girls experience the truth of this statement.

[Photo: Jenny Bergman]