COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant published a piece in the New York Times last Sunday, Jan. 11, called “Speaking While Female.” The article delves into some of the many reasons why women speak less than their male peers in the workplace. It touches on what’s being done to change that, and what’s being done to reinforce it.
I have mixed opinions about Sandberg and her “leaning in” philosophy, but she and I agree on one thing for certain, which is that while more and more women are climbing higher on the career ladder than ever before, it is still immensely difficult for us to be taken seriously or avoid being judged harshly based on our sex.
Sandberg and Grant write:
“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.”
The fact that we’re still experiencing this in 2015 is pretty sad, you guys. But, we are, so let’s unpack it. Sandberg and Grant have narrowed down the two biggest reasons women are “silent” in the workplace.
1. They fear backlash for articulating their opinions.
Sandberg and Grant shared an important study in their article, which showed that male executives who spoke more frequently than their peers received 10 percent higher ratings than their female counterparts who, when they spoke more than their peers, received 14 percent lower ratings.
We seem to have a problem with women who speak “out of turn,” or take up a lot of conversational space. Not to mention these ratings came from both men and women. Which is to say, we’re part of this too, ladies. Talk about cognitive dissonance. We want to be heard and respected, but we’re still having issues affording other women the same courtesy, and it’s about time we figure out why.
Next time you’re at work, or a PTA meeting, or the synagogue, or any other place where there are women in leadership, pay attention to how you feel about pushier, more assertive women. Do they bother you? It could be because they’re nasty or curt, but it could also have something to do with this.
2. They are literally silenced in some way.
Sandberg and Grant also discussed the writing team of the TV series, “The Shield.” In an interview with then show-runner Glen Mazzara, he shared an anecdote about how female writers would get verbally cut off when pitching ideas, either by a male writer who had a different idea or wanted to run with theirs. He ended up instating a “no interrupting,” rule, which changed the dynamic of the group immensely.
So not only do we dislike it when women speak too much, but also we kind of dislike when they speak at all.
Why is this the case? I’m going to tell you. It all boils down to anti-feminists’ and misogynists’ least favorite term: the patriarchy. There, I said it. Patriarchy, patriarchy, PATRIARCHY. We don’t like when women talk because we are conditioned to live in and enjoy the patriarchy. In the patriarchy, men are in charge. They’re largely the ones who talk, make decisions, philosophize, proselytize, so on and so forth. Even today, in the 21st century, and if you think that’s somehow gone away or slowed down significantly, you’re not looking at the full picture.
That sucks! It really does. However, we could read this article and others like it and let ourselves feel defeated, or, we could fight it. How do we fight it? It’s simple. Talk. Be heard. Speak your mind in the conference room, the corner office, the writers’ room, the PTA meeting, the synagogue, the dinner table. Talk everywhere. When you have an opinion or idea, make sure you’re heard. When you get backlash, accept it gracefully and keep talking.
It’s definitely easier said than done, but it needs to be done, and I have faith in all of us to do it.