What is it about a woman speaking up that still causes a strain in the workplace?
Women have had leadership positions in government, industry and education for decades, yet too many people still find a woman with an opinion a dangerous thing — or at least an annoying one.
According to a recent article in The New York Times based on a Yale University study, male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.
Another recent study shows that when students evaluate online professors, they give those identified as men significantly higher evaluations than women, including when male professors posed as female and female professors posed as male.
So, when women say they aren’t being heard in the workplace, or taken as seriously as men, studies back up what anecdotal evidence has said for years.
Here are suggestions on how to address this bias in your own workplace:
1) Start with observing others in meetings. How assertive are female speakers, and how is that assertiveness treated versus that of male co-workers? Don’t just observe one meeting — observe over time to detect patterns.
2) On your own, or with someone outside the workplace that you trust, dig deep to examine what views you hold on women that might seep into the workplace. Whether because of religion, your family or your other personal relationships, what are your real thoughts about women in power or women who are opinionated?
3) Pay attention to your unconscious habits when dealing with males versus females. Do you interrupt women more or discount their opinions more quickly, especially when they offer dissent? Do you reward men more with subtle and not-so-subtle acknowledgements of praise, such as nodding of the head or praise and encouragement?
4) If you are a woman, pay attention to how you evaluate other women. Do you disproportionately evaluate on factors that have nothing to do with their jobs? Are you harder on other women? Have you internalized any judgments that make you more comfortable when men exhibit power, dominance and assertiveness than when other women do?
5) Stop indulging stereotypes as a substitute for individual analysis. Don’t keep putting women in boxes according to how you think women should behave, based on carry-over biases of how you think girls should behave.
Women are a large part of the workforce. If you work long enough you will work for a woman, and have women work for you. Too many old biases about strong women who speak up continue to be passed on to new generations in the workplace. Figure out what part you play in that continuing legacy.
Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at www.facebook.com/diversitydiva.