By Erik Dominguez

On May 14, when I was recognized with the Inspiring Advocate for Women Award at the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa’s Inspiring Women of Iowa event, I walked up to the stage with a thought I couldn’t ignore: I have not always been an advocate for women.

The realization that I have not always supported women first became apparent a few years ago when I recognized a common denominator in the pattern of a broken marriage and subsequently broken relationships: me. I woke up to the fact that I was responsible for creating havoc in my personal and professional life. That’s when I began to get serious about my emotional awareness and growth.

Through therapy, coaching and emotional intelligence training, I realized that I was creating unsafe spaces for women and men alike. I blamed others for my shortcomings and used my privilege as a man to advance my agenda, ignorant to (or ignoring) the needs of the people around me.

So, I learned to do something different: I listened.

I listened to the intent behind what someone was saying. I stopped thinking about what I was going to say while the other person was speaking, selfishly trying to make the conversation about me. That opened up space for deep, vulnerable conversations. Conversations about battling depression, a new pregnancy, work overwhelm, an impending divorce and an upcoming vacation with family. Conversations that allowed me to see how I can genuinely support that person.

It was a turning point in not just my personal life but my professional one. As a speaking coach, I had always been effective in getting others to perform their message well. And this level of listening allowed me to guide them to confidently, powerfully and joyfully speak their story as their authentic selves.

As a man honored as an advocate of women, I feel a responsibility to call other men forward. We get to do the work and keep doing the work. We get to stop blaming others. We get to stop drinking and numbing. We get to stop hiding behind being male as an excuse for spilling our anger, pain, and fears all over the women (and men) around us.

And we get to enjoy the joy that comes from that deep emotional work. We get to be the advocates of our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. We get to be inspired by women, follow their lead, and support the change they are creating.

When I walked up to receive this award, I couldn’t ignore that my nominators recognized something in me. They recognized the deep, messy, uncomfortable and often painful work it  took to become self-aware of my shortcomings, cultivate empathy and be an advocate in every conversation with every woman and man.

It turns out they were listening, too.

Erik Dominguez is the founder of Speak Up Stories, where he serves as a speaking coach. He is the 2021 recipient of the Inspiring Women of Iowa Advocate Award.

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