My friend Tiphani is a young single mom of two, a successful entrepreneur, a best-selling author, and an all-around inspiration.
All hustle and heart, she coaches thousands of women just like her — single moms who others may have doubted and written off — to be entrepreneurial, financially secure, authentic, and, most of all, bold.
Last week, she traveled to an out-of-town women's empowerment conference.
It was a conference for professional women seeking high-level insights on career advancement, wealth building, developing fulfilling relationships, and networking.
On the last day of the event, Tiphani walked up to the audience microphone during a Q&A session to pose a question to a very successful, very well-known man (who shall remain nameless at her request) known for his humorous, practical, and inspirational advice geared toward women.
When it was her turn, she stood at the mic, smiled, and did what most people at big networking conferences do: She identified herself.
With a fun, endearing little nod to the unique spelling of her name that she always includes, she stated her name and career:
“Hi, my name is Tiphani — T-i-P-H-a-n-i — and I'm a best-selling author and entrepreneur..."
Before she could ask her question, the male speaker interrupted her from the stage and said, dramatically, “No one cares what your name is!" The audience burst into laughter. Stunned, she stood there as he proceeded to mock her, tell her never to do that again ("that" being both spell her name and mention her accomplishments), and give her a lesson in what he had apparently deemed to be her self-importance and arrogance.
Stunned, she stood there as he proceeded to mock her.
My friend stood there for what felt like an eternity as the reprimand continued, the laughter rolled on, and she fought to keep angry tears from falling.
This confident woman was humiliated for being confident. By a male "motivational" speaker. At a women's empowerment conference.
What happened to Tiphani at that mic may sound like just an ironic and obnoxious anomaly. But it's what happens to so many women every day when they dare to "step up to the mic" in their lives and be their full selves.
Just ask movie producer Effie Brown, who had a public back-and-forth with Matt Damon about diversity on his show "Project Greenlight." On this week's episode, she was portrayed as difficult and annoying for registering similar concerns.
Just ask model and author Amber Rose, who blasted GQ magazine this week for writing an introduction to their profile of her that described her only in relation to her famous exes (even calling her a "baby mama" despite the fact that she was married at the time). She was called sensitive for her objection.
Just ask my colleague Wagatwe Wanjuki, who was ultimately expelled from Tufts University after speaking up about being repeatedly assaulted on campus and receiving no support from the school.
Just ask Ellen Pao, who spent months in a sordid, public gender-discrimination case against the prominent venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers.
Every day, women deal with the consequences of boldly speaking up and "leaning in."
Tiphani's story isn't just anecdotal, either. Research shows that women are penalized for speaking too much, speaking too little, speaking with emotion, speaking with too high of a pitch, speaking with certain phrases, speaking while appearing either too sexual or not attractive enough, or speaking while being black or Latino.
“Well, I care what my name is. And I'm going to ask my question."
In an article written earlier this year, Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett, authors of the book “The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance Is Hurting Women, Men — and Our Economy," described the problem pretty succinctly:
"Good things happen for men when they talk, but for women, silence is golden."
So what's a girl to do?
Well, Tiphani refused to be silenced. She stood there and said, voice shaky but determined: “Well, I care what my name is. And I'm going to ask my question."
Women came up to her afterward to show their support and shock for what had happened. She of course turned the experience into a lesson to teach her clients and social media followers a few days later. Because that's what we women do.
We push through and pass on our best practices to other women.
A quick Google search finds no shortage of articles written by women, teaching other women how to speak up — safely, strategically, and, of course, confidently, despite the bias that may occur as a result.
But my question after this ordeal is simple and nagging: Who is teaching the men? And when will they learn?
Until then, we'll keep standing up and being exactly who we are. And as much as I want to humiliate this guy now by putting him on blast, we'll keep him anonymous. Because no one cares what his name is.