Women from all around the Boston area log onto Zoom every other Monday evening. Some are sitting in their offices, some in their living rooms. They play games and chat while laughing over the awkwardness of meeting online. But this isn’t a socially distanced Zoom hangout between friends — this is a meeting with Speaker Sisterhood.
Speaker Sisterhood, founded by career consultant Angela Lussier, works with women to strengthen their public speaking skills and create a network of women bound in a “sisterhood.”
Lussier founded the group in August. 2016 after failing to find a preexisting community of women. Before her fledgling organization became nationwide, Lussier started off by offering free public speaking workshops.
The organization currently has 10 chapters, most of which are in Massachusetts, as well as an online club. Brenda Loan Baker, the Boston chapter president, said she views the organization as not only a place to improve one’s speaking skills, but also a place to find community.
“Because of the way Speaker Sisterhood is set up, it’s really about self-discovery as well as speaking discovery,” Baker said. “The camaraderie and the support between the women is really amazing.”
To join Speaker Sisterhood, new members can attend one free meeting before paying member fees to attend regular meetings.
Group members refine their skills by reading books with speeches aloud at meetings. They can prepare for business conferences or simply use their time to tell a personal story. The Sisterhood also creates impromptu speeches with random topics and provides feedback to one another.
Baker said she believes the group both improves speaking skills and changes women’s perceptions of themselves.
“I think the other thing that happens is that, it’s not just the women’s ability to speak that changes, really their confidence in themselves changes,” Baker said. “So definitely it’s improved my ability to speak and understand what is important to engage my audience.”
Alexa Quintero, a freshman in Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, wrote in an email that she believes workshops and learning programs like Speaker Sisterhood provide a platform and safe space for women to develop and improve their public speaking skills.
She also wrote that these programs can help women move past gender-based inequities.
“Being a woman is like having a permanent black mark on the credibility of your words,” Quintero wrote. “I have to fight the same gender stereotypes engrained in all of us when I stand up and speak about something originally perceived as a man’s topic.”
In the male-dominated field of business, those entrenched in the status quo may have to look out, because Speaker Sisterhood aims to encourage women to speak up and step out in their professions — to break glass ceilings.
Roberta Clarke, a Questrom associate professor emeritus, said she experienced sexism as a graduate student at Harvard Business School, where 3 percent of students were women.
Clarke recalled an incident where she overheard a classmate point out that nearly every time she spoke in class, someone would attack the comment Clarke offered. Clarke said she did not allow discrimination to obstruct her from speaking up for herself.
“Even under adverse circumstances, I still spoke, I still did just fine,” Clarke said. “You have to deal with the butterflies, whatever the reasons are that they might be caused. You have to say, ‘Okay, I have butterflies, big deal, it doesn’t stop me from speaking.’”
Clarke said it is important for female professionals to know the logistics of public speaking, speeches and giving presentations, but especially to have confidence.
“If you think you have something worthwhile to say,” Clarke said, “say it.”