The power of tooting your own horn

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Last weekend in Seattle I was lucky to participate in a roundtable discussion consisting of two of the other Expo presenters, Amy Walker and Ulrike Rodrigues, and women on the staff and board of the Cascade Bicycle Club — all of us leaders in the bike movement, as Kathy McCabe, the CBC’s deputy director and the get-together’s organizer, kept reminding us.

A topic that kept coming up again and again is that when we are in male-dominated industries — like bicycling — we do not always feel free to express ourselves. We talked about different approaches to changing that, and I brought up the Portland Society, the nonprofit alliance I helped found of professional women who are passionate about bicycling. Our monthly breakfast meetings are geared towards professional development and expert speakers, but that the really life-changing part is the beginning when we go around the room and introduce ourselves — we ask everyone to also “toot your own horn,” each participant telling the group something we’ve done in the last month that we’re proud of.

When we started the group, the “toots” were often modest, flustered, even apologetic. One member at the first meeting had just come in second in a mountain bike race but didn’t want to brag about it. As time has gone by (almost two years now!) the increase in confidence has been palpable. There’s been a cultural shift, too, and newcomers join longtime members in straightforwardly asserting their accomplishments. It’s hard to say, but my sense is that the accomplishments themselves have also grown more awesome over time. It’s working.

After telling the Seattlites about this practice, I made them go around and do it on the spot. They were naturals. Perhaps they’ll start something — if so, I’m excited to see what Seattle-specific form it takes. I hope they give us a run for our money!