The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women – The New York Times

Less of an issue in government now given the high percentage of women (about 40 percent) at the DM and ADM level? Comments appreciated!

For women in business and beyond, it was an I-told-you-so day.

The twin spectacles Tuesday — an Uber board member’s wisecrackabout women talking too much, and Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, being interrupted for the second time in a week by her male colleagues — triggered an outpouring of recognition and what has become almost ritual social-media outrage.

Academic studies and countless anecdotes make it clear that being interrupted, talked over, shut down or penalized for speaking out is nearly a universal experience for women when they are outnumbered by men.

A few statistics show that the questions directed at Uber about how women fare in the workplace extend beyond one company, and indeed beyond Silicon Valley. Women make up 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 chief executive officers and 19.4 percent of Congress this year. About a fifth of board members in Fortune 500 companies in 2016 were women, according to research conducted by Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity.

After Arianna Huffington, an Uber director, spoke of how important it was to increase the number of women on the board, David Bondermansaid that would mean more talking. He soon resigned from the board. Even in companies without notorious bro-cultures, however, women have had to struggle to feel heard and, as the numbers make clear, to advance to the top.

“I think every woman who has any degree of power and those who don’t knows how it feels to experience what Kamala Harris experienced yesterday,” said Laura R. Walker, the president and chief executive of New York Public Radio. “To be in a situation where you’re trying to do your job and you’re either cut off or ignored.”

Senator Harris, a former prosecutor, assertively questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, interrupted and chided her to let Mr. Sessions answer her questions. Soon after that, Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the committee chairman, cut her off, saying her time had elapsed.

…A ream of studies affirm such anecdotes. Researchers consistently find that women are interrupted more and that men dominate conversations and decision-making, in corporate offices, town meetings, school boards and the United States Senate.

Victoria L. Brescoll, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, published a paper in 2012 showing that men with power talked more in the Senate, which was not the case for women. Another study, “Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead?” concluded that men who became angry were rewarded, but that angry women were seen as incompetent and unworthy of power in the workplace.

“The fact that women are outnumbered in every room puts them in a position where they’re often coming up against gender-based stereotypes,” said Deborah Gillis, president and chief executive of Catalyst, which works for women’s advancement in business. “Women are too hard, too soft, but never just right. What that means is that women are seen as either competent or liked but not both.”

Some women are working to subvert these gender imbalances in their own organizations.

Ms. Walker, of New York Public Radio, said she pressed for more women at its senior level and on its board. “I think this not only empowers women throughout our organization, it also makes for better discussions,” she said. She is also pushing to increase the number of women who host podcasts.

Jacqueline Hinman, chairman and C.E.O. of CH2M Hill Companies, a Colorado-based engineering company that manages projects including light rail in Toronto and Olympic facilities in London, works in a field where women have typically been scarce. Now, however, women make up 30 to 40 percent of her board and are well represented in senior positions.

“Men who come to our companies from competitors are astounded by the number of women everywhere,’’ she said, adding, “They love it.”

It took years of work to get to that point, Ms. Hinman said — and part of the push came from clients, increasingly women, who wanted to see diverse engineering teams. She said she made it clear to subordinates they will be judged partly on how many women and minorities they advance.

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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