So, we now know the following. Women don’t ask; when they do ask, or when they speak up at all, or when they are assertive about their ideas, or the progress they care about, or their own place and advancement in the workplace, they are not viewed as favorably as men who do the exact same things.
It really is an unfair game.
So, Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg have reminded us of a simple and profound truth. Nothing changes without attentive and intentional action. They co-authored Speaking While Female: Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on Why Women Stay Quiet at Work in the New York Times. They tell of the experience of the writing meetings from the TV show The Shield, where men would speak and be listened to, and women would speak and always be interrupted. And they mention that President Obama held a news conference where only women journalists were called upon to ask questions, and it was “noticeable.”
Here are a few key excerpts from their article:
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. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.
SINCE most work cannot be done anonymously, leaders must also take steps to encourage women to speak and be heard. At “The Shield,” Mr. Mazzara, the show runner, found a clever way to change the dynamics that were holding those two female employees back. He announced to the writers that he was instituting a no-interruption rule while anyone — male or female — was pitching. It worked, and he later observed that it made the entire team more effective.
When President Obama held his last news conference of 2014, he called on eight reporters — all women. It made headlines worldwide. Had a politician given only men a chance to ask questions, it would not have been news; it would have been a regular day.
Obviously, businesses need to find ways to interrupt this gender bias.
The long-term solution to the double bind of speaking while female is to increase the number of women in leadership roles.
Here’s the simple lesson. Some things need to change, like the behaviors of men and women regarding the behaviors of women in the workplace. (If you think this does not need to change, then… I don’t know what to say to you…) Since they need to change, all people in positions of leadership need to intentionally set up and reinforce the needed changes.