Something happened for me at my SheSpeaks evenings of women’s storytelling last year. I didn’t see it coming, but once I did, I saw how it had been there all along.

If you’re not familiar with SheSpeaks, then you might not know that this annual event has become something of a tradition for many women—a heaping dose of good mojo, heartfelt energy, and inspiration delivered right before we all head inside (ourselves, and our dwellings) for the long, dark winter months.

I’ve been running SheSpeaks since 2011, and have brought ten amazing and sold-out audiences together with over fifty-two speakers courageous enough to share their stories with their whole hearts and soul fires. No fancy bells or whistles, no elaborate rehearsals or formal introductions, just some loud or soulful music to get the party started, and women speaking their truth on stage. Just as they are.

But last year, having expanded SheSpeaks to a two-night event—and still we sold out!—I noticed something different: more men came out to be in the audience.

I’ve always been very clear that this is an event open to everyone—not just women—even though only women’s voices are featured on the stage.
 

That’s the idea: showcasing women’s power, perspective, and experiences as valuable, relevant and worthy of our attention.

But last year, as I looked out at the audience—especially on the last night, I saw more men than I’ve ever seen before. It excited me. Not just because I’m the mom to two boys or that my husband’s presence in that audience literally helps to root me both nights I’m on stage (making this event truly a family affair…)—but because more men were literally seeing what it looks like for woman to lead.

See what I just did there? I made storytelling and leading synonymous.

Men came up to me after both shows last year and said things like this:

I’ve never experienced anything like this before…
I had no idea…
What just happened?
I’ve been laughing, nodding, and tearing up all night…
This feels like the church I’ve always wanted…
I didn’t expect to relate to this…
I was just here to support my friend on stage…
I can’t believe I didn’t know about this…
I want to bring all my friends to this next year…
That was the best night ever…
I didn’t expect to feel so welcome here…like I belong

I’ve heard things like this before from men who have attended in the past—men who have quietly approached me after the show, their hand extended, shaking their head in disbelief, wondering why they were drawn to me…to this.

In fact, the first time I ever hosted SheSpeaks, a man came up to me after and said—in all seriousness—“So when are you going to do a HeSpeaks?”

I laughed outright, and I regretted that later. Because I had missed his point, I suspect. While his comment felt rather tone deaf about the entitlement of white men to have a voice and a captive audience, I think what he was really getting at was this:
 

“I want something for men that feels like this…Can you help?”

Sadly, I didn’t know what I know now. Back then I was still a bit bitter from my corporate days and had some harder edges to me. Back then I was still guarding my heart and looking for fight.

But last year? Men were undeniable in the house—not only as a captive audience, but seeming to say the same things in a chorus, not just as a lone voice.

While all this amazingness was unfolding, however, something else was happening that was not so hot. I didn’t know it at the time, but a client of mine later shared her experience—and her disappointment.

Apparently she was in line at the bar during intermission and turned to the woman behind her—someone she didn’t know—to express her excitement about the evening. She said something like:
 

Have you noticed how many men are here tonight?

What my client meant, but didn’t feel the need to say because she thought it was obvious was: “isn’t that different…EXCITING?”

All that excitement came crashing down when the woman she’d spoken to rolled her eyes and said, “I know, they’re totally crashing our party…”

That sort of shit makes my heart break. But I also get it, because at one point at time, I was that woman. I was tired of constantly being surround by men—most of them white—talking to me, about me, on all these platforms. I was tired of not feeling heard and seen. I was tired of not having a space that felt safe or comfortable to me as a woman. And I was tired of not seeing more women on the stage, in the office, grabbing the microphone, or in the spotlight.

So I get it. And yet.

I also know what it’s like to not feel like I belong, to be the one woman in the room, and to feel grateful to have just been invited by a man to join in the conversation. I know what it likes to be included in places where I don’t feel like I belong.
 

Women need to actively invite our men to join us—in our spaces, at our tables, to our gatherings—so we can create change together.

This is what I was thinking about when SheSpeaks wrapped last year.

It’s not about giving men a microphone, having them set the agenda, or asking them to lead. It’s about inviting men to follow our a woman’s lead. It’s about enlisting men as allies and granting them access to the world of women.

How else can we demonstrate what it’s like to be in the presence of a woman leading an audience if we don’t invite men to witness us—to see and feel what it’s like?
 

Leaders are visible, not hidden behind closed doors.

So here’s my challenge to you: invite more men into your world. Let’s show them how we do things as women. Let’s show them what it looks like and how it feels. Let’s show them how alive and vibrant and magic it feels when women feel safe enough to reveal the full wattage of their power—and do it together.

But don’t should yourself over there, okay? I remember how much I craved being in the company of women back when I had no access to it. So if that’s what you’re hungry for right now, than have at it—go nutty, get your needs met with wild abandon, and I will be over here celebrating you.

Just be mindful if you have any of these thoughts, though:

He won’t be able to handle it…
This would freak him out…
He’d feel so out of place….
He’ll probably feel awkward…
He’ll probably say no anyway…
He’s not going to get it…
He’ll just make fun of it…
He’ll ruin it for me…

Check yourself. Is that really true? Or is that just something you’re telling yourself? Have you ever tested those beliefs? Do you want to find out? Do you believe in him? Have you ever told him your concerns? Have you ever expressed how much it means to you—and admitted that you want him to share it with you?
 

Because those things? Those are on us to own as women.

We cannot control what the response or outcome will be, but we can damn sure assume responsibility for extending the invitation.

Now lest you think I’m over here with all this shit figured out, let me offer you a story from my own experience that just happened this morning.

A client of mine let me know that Glennon Doyle will be coming through Boston this Saturday—just three days from now—as part of her Together Live tour. I’m a big fan of Glennon and clearly I’m all about women’s storytelling, so I clicked through to the link, fully expecting to see tickets were sold out months ago.

Happily, there were still some left! And I soon found I was in possession of not one, but two tickets to go to this event Saturday night.

I’ll admit, my first thought was this: What woman do I want to bring with me to this event? After floating the offer by a couple of my badass women, I thought back to my my experience of SheSpeaks and had another thought:
 

I want to share this with my man. This matters to me—and to us.

So I invited him to be my date over text, even though the voice in my head said all the things I listed above….

I didn’t just ask him to come because I couldn’t get anyone else to go with me. I told him how much it meant to me if he would make this event—and my world of women—a priority. And show up to it.
 

His response: I’m in!

Even though he’s tired. Even though, like all of us, he’s been all go, go, go and was looking forward to not going this weekend. Even though he knows he’s going to be in the minority. Even though he might feel uncomfortable, awkward or not welcome.

He’s going not out of obligation or guilt—he’s going because he was asked. And he trusts my invitation.

And sure, he’s an awesome man who was raised by a strong mother and four strong sisters, but still….how often do we underestimate our men? How often do we assume their disinterest and write off their participation in something that is valuable—that matters—without even extending an invitation to them to decide for themselves?
 

That’s on us, women.

So I double dog dare you to join me. Invite your men. Forward this post to the men in your world and see how they respond. Go on record that you’re going to be inviting them to join you in women’s places and spaces more.

Because it matters and it’s time.

Start with SheSpeaks. That event is a great place to start, and people are flying in from all over the country to go to it, but begin by using your own voice today. Use it to actively enlist men as our allies, and see what happens next.
 

Invite men to be a part of our women’s world, and see it as a public service for us all.

______________________________________

Can I get an amen to that? Does any of this resonate with you over there or is this just my truth? If you like what you’ve read here, you’re really gonna dig my second book Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire which will be released on November 15th. I go into this and much more in this book that is both a heat-seeking memoir and a fiery missive for women to assume the helm. 

Looking for more inspiration and want to meet more of your people? Stay tuned for these upcoming events:

Thursday, December 5th: SheSpeaks, night 1 

Five amazing women will be taking the stage with Lael at SheSpeaks to share their stories at this ever-popular annual event! Tickets are on sale now at One Longfellow Square and going fast, so be sure to get yours early if you want in on it this year!

Friday, December 6th: SheSpeaks, night 2

For the first time ever in the history of SheSpeaks, Lael will be taking center stage for the second evening of SheSpeaks to share stories from her own experience, and will weave together threads from her work with women over the years, as she celebrates the release of her second book, Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire. Tickets are on sale now via One Longfellow Square and are going fast for this special edition night of SheSpeaks.