Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Let Her Finish: Supporting Women's Voices from Staff Meetings to the Board Room

It happens all the time.  Maybe you don’t notice because it’s so frequent, like a fish not knowing it’s in water.  It's just the way things are, right? Let's lay out the problem, then we'll talk about how to be part of the solution.  Women are interrupted in meetings at 3 times the rate that men are. It doesn't have to be that way.  

       Studies from 1975 showed men were responsible for 47 out of 48 conversation interruptions.

But it’s gotten better, right?

       Study in 2015 found that men not only interrupted twice as often as women, they were 3 times as likely to interrupt a woman.

       Australian study findings include:
1.    women don’t speak as much without interruption as men.
2.    of 311 interruptions that questioned a speaker's authority and credibility, 213 were directed towards women.
3.    female witnesses were called emotional, unreasonable or words to similar effect 163 times, and 120 of these comments were made by men.  
4.    women were more likely to be punished for their interruptions, than their male peers, by the chair during public hearings.

Even on Diversity Panels

SXSW Gender & Diversity Panel – Google Exec Chair Eric Schmidt repeatedly interrupted U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, the sole female panelist on stage with him during the talk. Finally, he was reprimanded by an audience member, Judith Williams, who also happened to be Google's global diversity manager.

Especially if it makes them uncomfortable

Most recently, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) was officially silenced while reading a letter on the senate floor.  The letter, authored by Coretta Scott King, was read into the Congressional record in 1986 by Ted Kennedy (D-MA).  The 30 year old letter directly addressed the topic at hand, the ability of Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to support the civil rights of all Americans. 

     ‘She was warned. She was given an explanation. 
      Nevertheless, she persisted’
        -Senator Mitch McConnell

Think it’s just an example of politics and not sexism?  Four other senators were allowed to read the letter all or in part just hours after Sen. McConnell silenced Sen. Warren.  I've listed them below.  Just shout it right now if you notice anything different about them.  Come on, I know you know the answer.

Tom Udall (D-New Mexico)
Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)
Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont)

Yup, you got it.  They’re men.  Do you think that’s a coincidence? I’m willing to bet that most working women know it’s business as usual. 

So how have other people solved these problems?

A No Interruptions Policy

Years ago, while producing the hit TV series “The Shield,” Glen Mazzara noticed that two young female writers were quiet during story meetings. He pulled them aside and encouraged them to speak up more.

Watch what happens when we do, they replied.

Almost every time they started to speak, they were interrupted or shot down before finishing their pitch. When one had a good idea, a male writer would jump in and run with it before she could complete her thought.
He found a clever way to change the dynamics that were holding those two female employees back. He announced to the writers that he was instituting a no-interruption rule while anyone — male or female — was pitching. It worked, and he later observed that it made the entire team more effective.

A Seat at the Table

Women working for the Obama White House complained they weren’t being let into important meetings.  When they were, they were ignored.
Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.

How can you help solve the problem? 

To start, women need to learn a few key phrases. 
"I'm not finished." 
"Stop interrupting me."
"I just said that."

But we can't do it alone, gentlemen.  Pay attention the next time you're in a meeting.  When you hear this happen to your co-worker, be her ally.  Try this:

"Let her finish."
"Don't interrupt."
"She just said that."

So what are your ideas about solving this problem?  I'd love to hear them.  Either comment below or tweet me @IrishSQL

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