It’s the kind of meeting women are all too familiar with, one in which they put their ideas forth, only to have it repeated louder and with more authority by a man.
New York Times columnist Jessica Bennet coined this term ‘bropriation’- the art of taking a woman’s idea and taking credit for it. Bennet explains, “Our ideas get co-opted (bro-opted), re-appropriated (bro-propriated?) — or they simply fizzle out. (In turn) we shut down, become less creative, less engaged. We revert into ourselves, wondering if it’s actually our fault. Enter spiral of self-doubt.”
Communication between men and women at work continues to be an ongoing issue. According to a 2014 study, men and women communicate differently because they seek to achieve different things: men seek power, while women seek connection.
The study, conducted by George Washington University, reveals that men were 33% more likely to interrupt women than when they were speaking to other men. Women in this study (and other noted research) were statistically not as likely to interrupt men. In order to be heard however, women faced multiple communication barriers in the corporate board room.
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant have teamed up to do a series of spotlights on women in the workplace, including this article on the myths of ‘catty women.’ Their 2015 Op-ed published in The New York Times on ‘speaking while female’ highlights the difficulties women face while establishing their ideas in the workplace: “We’ve both seen it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea.”
This is less a phenomenon and more an example of the effects of implicit bias and ingrained sexism on the esteem and psyche of women in the workplace. As implicit bias goes, manterruptions are not necessarily intentional, and are less an act to demoralize women and more an act to establish authority in the conversation.
At the 2015 SXSW in Austin, Google Exec Eric Schmidt unintentionally gave a great example of manterrupting. During a panel on ‘How Innovation Happens,’ Schmidt continued to interrupt U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith during their discussion. Judith Williams – the Global Diversity and Talent program manager at Google – pointed this out during the Q&A portion, asking Smith how it felt to be continuously interrupted, and how she felt about the unconscious bias that effects women.
Although these unconscious acts aren’t meant to be harmful, for women on the receiving end of these experiences, that can often be the case. However, that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. Leslie Shore, a communications expert and the author of Listen to Succeed: How to identify and overcome barriers to effective listening, encourages women to use strategies that men already use: “Say to the interrupter, ‘There are a few more essential points I need to make. Can you delay a moment while I do that?’ or ‘I know I will appreciate your feedback, but can you hold off until I’m done?’”
She also suggests using shorter sentences, speaking with conviction, make eye contact, don’t smile and yes, lean in as you are speaking to individuals.
Men also need to hold themselves accountable and more importantly, hold each other accountable during meetings. At an individual level, men can be supportive of women by creating a buddy system of support – if a woman says something in a meeting, be engaged and interested. If the idea is interesting, publicly support it. If you notice another guy co-opting a woman’s idea as his own, gently second your enthusiasm for the idea and name the woman as the original source.
Lastly, companies need to be involved in actively pushing this process forward. The president of YWomen, Jerrery Tobias Halter, believes that advancing women also means engaging men. He writes, “companies that embrace these approaches are going to win the war for women in the workplace.”
Halter writes that top companies are finding ways to do this through a four step approach; listening to women’s concerns, recognizing gender differences, developing diverse talent, and taking action. You can learn more about these action strategies here.