Women struggle to speak up in meetings. In fact, 45% of women business leaders claim to be struggling with this problem.
Sometimes it’s lack of confidence, but more often than not, the reason is because of interruptions from men. And these interruptions have bled into our current work-from-home environments as well.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, women are still finding themselves struggling to speak up or to hold the floor in their virtual meetings. Many of us were able to watch this very issue unfold, live, in the latest vice-presidential debate last week. So, what can women do to ensure that they’re heard when they do make the decision to speak up and how can men get out of the way and give women the floor?
I always tell the members of Women in the Boardroom to “Show up, stand up, and speak up!” And a lot of these women do, but that doesn’t mean they have to bully their way to do so each and every day and be seen as the stereotypical “aggressive woman.”
As a culture and society, we need to recognize that men are constantly drowning out the voices of their female peers and that women are made to feel that they should take up as little space as possible. Women feel that they need to be succinct in expressing their ideas, thoughts, or feelings and can be reticent or indirect when doing so.
Whereas, a man feels comfortable building on his ideas (or a woman’s ideas expressed merely seconds before). Men also may be more critical, argumentative and speak longer than women and this is because they don’t have to concern themselves with being likeable. And no wonder women are feeling timid when taking center stage, it’s not just our ideas up for critique, it’s our demeanor, our appearance – even down to our smiles.
As women, we need to block these types of criticisms, continue to stand up, show, up and speak up, and do so in the same way that our male colleagues would; without the concern of what others will think of us and with the mindset that we must quickly eschew any ludicrous critiques.
Simply, approach the situation as if you are a white man. And if you witness another female coworker being interrupted, do your best to call out the interruption and circle back to her.
And what should men be doing? Well, what they should have been doing all along – waiting for their female colleagues to finish their thoughts, ardently acknowledge their ideas, thanking them for sharing, and thus creating space for women to continue to do so in future meeting. Because the only way to end this practice of interrupting women, is to engage in the act of ending it.
With a, hopefully, stronger than ever focus on diversity, inclusion, and equity companies need to make changes purposefully, putting into to practice what they preach. And women and men at all levels can get involved in this effort to evolve by supporting women in the professional space; women by continuing to speak up and men by stepping out of the way.
Sheila Ronning, founder and CEO of Women In The Boardroom – an organization founded with the goal of bridging the gender gap in the boardroom – is a recognized expert on boardroom diversity and leadership. Follow her on Twitter (Twitter @RonningSheila) or reach out to her at Sheila.Ronning@womenintheboardroom.com
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