interrupting

I hear lots of “talk” about it. Women get “talked over” and interrupted in meetings – and have their ideas credited to men who repeat women’s unheralded ideas. In their NY Times series, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant wrote a piece entitled “Speaking While Female.” They addressed the “double bind,” which makes speaking up assertively risky for a woman. They identify the double bind as a chief reason women are less likely to speak up in meetings.

Joanne Lipman addresses the issue of women not being heard in meetings in her a WSJ piece, “Women at Work: a Guide for Men.” She advises men to ask women for their ideas.

Dr. Arin N. Reeves has now published a research study titled “Mansplaining, Manterrupting & Bropropriating: Gender Bias and the Pervasive Interruption of Women.” She defines these three terms this way:

Mansplaining: a man interrupting a woman to explain to her something that she actually knows more about than he does  

Manterrupting: the unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man  

Bropropriating: a man taking a woman’s idea and taking credit for it.”

Reeves’ research concludes that men interrupt significantly more than women and are far more likely to interrupt women than men. Men’s interruptions of women are more “intrusive” than their interruptions of men. Women, too, are far more likely to interrupt another woman than a man. Her research confirms a study by Kieran Snyder.

Reeves introduces these terms for phenomena that most women recognize, but that remain below the conscious level for most men. She notes that giving these behaviors names may “highlight the frustration that the interruptive behavior continues to engender.”

I wrote an article on these phenomena (which I have experienced personally).in Forbes WomensMedia a couple of years ago. I explored how and why these things happen and suggested the only solutions I could:

“Awareness . . . is the starting point. Women can practice speaking up more; they can learn to interrupt (politely), hold the floor, and speak with greater confidence and power (having due regard for the double bind). Both men and women can notice when a women’s idea doesn’t get the reaction it deserves. They can endorse the idea and give credit where it is due if another person ‘steals’ the idea.”

So is all this “talk” going to bring enough awareness to make all this happen less? Will men and women allow women to be heard and get credit for their ideas? Fixing this can support the engagement and retention of women – and that is good for business results.


gender-equalityFor the fourth time, I anxiously awaited an article in the New York Times series by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Again, I hoped they would say something new that would shake up the issue of women succeeding at the top of U.S. business. I do appreciate that this series, like Sandberg’s book Lean In, has brought a big spotlight to this issue. They have used their huge platform, hopefully, to create wider interest in the fact that women are still not proportionally represented at the top. But my hope for something profound or new has been disappointed.

The fourth article by Sandberg and Grant is titled “How Men Can Succeed in the Boardroom and the Bedroom.” About a third of the article is about how gender diversity at work is good for men (as well as women). They call it a “surprising truth” that “equality is good for men, too.” It is not surprising to me or to anyone close to this issue. The first of several studies by Catalyst showing the correlation between gender diversity and financial performance was published in 2004. Since 2007, McKinsey and Company has annually published research under the heading “Women Matter,” showing the benefits that gender diversity brings to businesses.

Sandberg and Grant cite some of many other studies that make the point. They then conclude that this is “not a zero-sum game” (the exact language used by my male colleague in our workshops). “More profits mean more rewards and promotions to go around.” Sadly, without probing the reason the business case hasn’t moved the needle on women in business leadership, they spend the rest of the article on how men benefit from being better husbands and fathers. That is, to me, a totally separate issue. Seeing that they will get more sex and have more successful children may drive some men to be more supportive of their wives’ careers. But it won’t drive them to solve what stands in the way of women reaching the top in business generally.

A recent Associated Press article, “For Business, More Women in Charge Means Bigger Profits,” reviews the evidence that gender diversity is good business. In addressing why organizations keep losing women, the author focuses on work-life pressures. She only mentions the deeper cause, “male-dominated culture at executive levels.”

Yes, business needs to address the needs of post-Boomer parents (moms and dads) to be able to work and care for families. But the harder issue is that “male-dominated culture” – business cultures that reflect decades of exclusively male leadership and lots of gender bias. This bias is not intentional or malicious; it is not even conscious. McKinsey calls these barriers “unconscious mind-sets.”

A compelling business case for gender diversity can’t penetrate unconscious ways of thinking. I want more spotlight on why women are not better represented at the top. I want the spotlight to be wider than on alleviating work-life pressures. We need to shine the light on, and uproot, those unconscious mind-sets.

Do you think it’s “surprising” that gender diversity is good for all? Why do you think knowledge of the business case hasn’t moved the needle very much on achieving gender diversity at leadership levels?


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