3 Ways You Might Be Silencing Women (And a Checklist for Fixing That)September 27, 2016
Last week The Washington Post reported on the struggles women in the White House face when seeking to be heard. The article opens with a story of how the women on the White House staff have had to develop a strategy called “amplification” to make sure people are listening to their ideas (and not misattributing them to men in the room). This recent coverage by The Washington Post can serve as a great reminder for us to reflect on the dynamics of meetings in our own workplaces and consider how those dynamics shape individuals’ experiences and outcomes.
The difficulties faced by women in the White House are just the tip of the iceberg. Over the last several years, feminists have coined slang terms to describe some of the gender dynamics that get in the way of full and equal participation in meetings and in the workplace more broadly:
3 Ways You Might Be Silencing Women
Manterrupting: Research tells us that men interrupt women in conversations far more often than they interrupt other men, and more often than women interrupt men. The phenomenon of manterrupting is so widespread that Time released a guide last year to help women avoid being manterrupted. When women are interrupted more frequently, their voices and ideas are less likely to be heard. What valuable contributions might get missed when women get interrupted?
Manspreading: The term “manspreading” is most commonly understood to refer to men taking up more than their fair share of physical space in public places. The same concept can be applied to airtime in meetings, as well. Research shows that men can take up to 75% of the talking time in most workgroups. Whether the cause is men being overly chatty or women not speaking up, there are voices being left out of the conversation.
Bropriating: Research also suggests that women often don’t get the credit they deserve for their contributions. Part of the issue is that women are more likely to share credit accomplished by a group than their male peers are, but men appropriating women’s ideas and contributions is also part of the problem. The problem is so real that Mother Jones compiled a list of eight classic examples of men “bropriating” women’s accomplishments. When we don’t give the right people credit for their work we risk promoting the wrong people, or even seeing the morale of our best contributors decline.
If you search the Internet for these phenomena you will find one editorial after another providing women with tips and tricks to navigate and address these dynamics. Here are just a few:
What you are less likely to find are tips and tricks for men to confront and even prevent these dynamics from occurring in the first place. To support you in addressing problematic meetings dynamics, we have created a list of things to think about before, during, and after your meetings.
Meeting Dynamic Checklist
Who is responsible for the meeting logistics (scheduling, invites, food, note-taking, etc.)? Women are more likely to be sidelined in meetings by being burdened down with the meeting logistics. Men don’t often do their fair share of this kind of work. Consider implementing a plan to ensure these responsibilities are share among attendees.
Who runs the meeting (sets the agenda, decides who talks and when, etc)? One sure-fire way to make sure that women’s voices aren’t left out of meetings is to rotate who runs the meetings and include women in that rotation.
Who speaks most in your meetings? Finding it hard to track whether women are getting a fair amount of airtime? Here is a simple and easy tool. Try it for a meeting or two and see if you notice any trends.
Who is doing the “amplifying”? Men can practice “amplification,” as well. Pay attention to who is suggesting specific ideas. If you like an idea, make sure to mention who it came up with it if you want to echo the sentiment. Also make sure to give credit when expanding on an idea; even if you’re offering something new, make sure to acknowledge the contributions of the people that sparked your revelation!
Cliff Leek is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Northern Colorado.