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Why do men speak more than women in the workplace?


Man-terruping, man-splaining. We’ve seen the memes and read the articles. Men interrupt women at a much higher rate than vice-versa, and one of their favorite workplace activities involves explaining ideas to female colleagues in a patronizing way.


But jokes aside-- what’s the science behind it? Is there really pressure for women to speak less at work?

Unfortunately, yes. And we’re not talking about indirect, that’s-how-we-do-it-here pressure either- it is a documented phenomenon and it directly affects performance reviews and promotions of women at work. Take for example, a business school professor at Yale School of management found that: "Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence.” Okay-- that sounds in line with what we know about extroversion and the workplace. But how about when female executives speak out more than their peers? Instead of being rewarded in their performance reviews, they were punished with 14 percent lower ratings. The kicker? They got lower reviews from both male and female colleagues. So ladies-- we have to face the fact that we share the blame here too.

How about manterrupting? Studies from Stanford University published as far back as 1975 document men systematically interrupting female speakers, and that interruptions are perpetuated much more frequently by men.

How is this relevant to us, and what is the loss to our workplaces? In their article in the New York Times called “Speaking While Female,” Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg argue that this bias against women speaking in the workplace “harms organizations by depriving them of valuable ideas.”

Practical Applications

So let’s say you’re with me until this point. You agree that the fact that women speak less is harming your organization and you’re down with the idea of encouraging your female colleagues to speak up. Congratulations! Luckily-- here are two quick wins:

1. Encourage more female participation in meetings. Studies show that women speak up more when there is one other woman in the meeting-- even if that woman doesn’t participate. Just the presence of an ally emboldens female participation.

2. Encourage anonymous submission of ideas, suggestions, and complaints. Drawing on research showing that orchestras that use blind auditions increase the number of women who are selected, many organizations have implemented “blind” submission processes. Proposals, projects, agenda items, etc… can be submitted before meetings and discussed without revealing the gender of the submitter until after a conclusion has been reached. This divests the opinion from the owner of the opinion, and can have the added benefit of empowering introverts and shyer employees to contribute ideas.

Try it out, and let us know how it goes for you and your organization!

Nicole Abi-Esber

Social Science Researcher


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