I am often invited to meetings because I am a senior woman - the organization believes in gender diversity in committees, councils etc. However, that does not mean there is equality in discussion. When I am in a meeting with mostly men (particularly faculty) there is rarely a way to get a word in. Sometimes they take over the conversation and only when they have exhausted all of their breath do they stop and ask the women around the table if we have any last words. Meaning, we feel like we are expected to be quiet until summoned or we have to somehow insert ourselves which ruffles feathers. And, if we try to disagree or add a new perspective, we have to be forceful/dramatic with our words to be heard. How does one interrupt or interject in these situations without being seen as a bully or disrupter?
Keeping Quiet... but Not For Long
Dear Keeping Quiet... but Not For Long,
Taylor Swift wasn’t lying when she said “I'm so sick of running as fast I can, Wondering if I'd get there quicker If I was a man.” Let me tell you, we all feel it. And for those that need facts, research confirms that women continue to be silenced or consistently interrupted in the workplace. In addition, women are very often perceived negatively for doing things that are praised in men. If a man interrupts and speaks up, he’s confident. If a woman does the same, she’s aggressive. This is completely ridiculous, but a part of the hypocrisy rooted in systemic issues that need to be addressed if the organization is seeking a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. So knowing that it's not all in your head, what can you do?
First, recognize that you have authority. You wouldn’t be in the position you are in if you weren’t smart, resourceful, committed, and powerful. You may not feel like you’re these things in situations like the one you’ve described, but don’t let anyone take away your power! Own it.
Second, have you pointed out the issues of inclusion of women to leadership? It’s not fun and the men in the room will probably get uncomfortable and potentially defensive, but it's important to do. Change needs to come from the top down and if you have some level of authority, use it. Consider building this into larger scale strategic initiatives for the organization. I’m going to sound like a broken record when I say this, but trainings on unconscious bias and DEI make a difference if the organization is fully behind them.
If the above all sounds too tough or too slow for you right now, that’s okay. Here are a few things you can start doing immediately:
Don’t wait for the men in the room to ask you to speak, just do it. We are conditioned to be polite and to wait our turn but speaking up doesn’t mean you are or need to be rude. For example, when you get the opportunity, say something like, “Great suggestion, Chad. That brings me to my point...” This will naturally give you space to speak. Do the research, come prepared, and create the opportunity to be heard.
Support other women. Build a shared understanding with the other women in the office. If a female colleague is speaking and she gets interrupted, step in by saying, “Sorry, Maya, you were saying...” Or, if you see another female colleague hasn’t had an opportunity to speak, ask them directly what their opinion is. Give them the floor. Create a culture where everyone has their voice heard by supporting each other. There is power in numbers.
Build male allyship. Share your experience with the men in the office. Have them join your efforts to bring about change. I hate to say it, but the men that are perpetuating these biases will most likely listen to other men more than other women, so use that to your advantage. It can feel exhausting to have to teach others all the time, but if you have men in your office that are open to having the conversation and change, then allow them to do so.
Remember, it will take time for these things to change but don’t worry about feeling like you’re interrupting. Interrupt. Have your voice be heard! Own your power. You have a seat at the table that another woman may not. Use it!
P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Keeping Quiet... but Not For Long? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
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