A Very Simple Thing You Can Start Doing

March 30, 2016

My last blog post and the reception to it got me thinking that it’s one thing to describe a problem in the abstract, but it’s much harder to come up with “actionable” solutions (good god I hate that phrase). But I think I have one idea that you can start doing today that will support the women that you work with.

I first noticed my friend Franzi doing this at a conference a few months back. It was so simple that it was mind-boggling to realise that I had never heard anybody else do this before.

Every time a woman is in the middle of a sentence and is interrupted by a man, Franzi gently interjected and said “Excuse me, Camilla was speaking,” or “John, please let Denise finish”. It’s a non-confrontational and friendly way to remind male colleagues that they’ve just inadvertently silenced a female colleague – and, done politely, it acknowledges that nearly always, it happens unintentionally and without malice.

There’s various literature to support the fact that women are interrupted more frequently than men. In fact, some recent research suggests that women may have started using “uptalk” (that rising inflection at the end of sentences?) as a floor-holding technique: ‘In the study, women spoke with the floor-holding rise nearly 60 percent of the time: “O.K., so go toward Warren” (pronounced as a high-rising “Waa—REN?”). Men used it only 28 percent of the time, tending instead to maintain steady voices, in a plateau.’ Isn’t that crazy though? Humans have literally subconsciously altered the way that we speak in an effort to be interrupted less.

What’s interesting is that I didn’t even notice that I was being interrupted so frequently until it was called out. I’ve noticed more people doing this lately, and I try to make it a personal goal to start calling it out more. The first step towards more equitable gender dynamics in the workplace is to ensure that the women who work there are literally being listened to.

So, try this next time you’re in a team meeting. Experiment with different language when you call out the interrupter, and let me know how it goes – tweet me @deniseyu21.

Thanks to Franzi for being awesome as always :-)