Today, I’d like to address the issue of speaking up in companies.
If at first sight, this issue might seem secondary, the unequal relationship to speech between genders has many consequences. This cause is very much linked to that of work recognition.
For example, when male employees speak up in meetings, or promote their work to their hierarchy more than their female counterparts, they appear more involved, and will be more easily considered for a promotion when the time comes.
If I use the term “men”, it is to lighten the text and avoid the very heavy saying “a somewhat significant share of men, or at least a greater share than that of women”. There are obviously important contrasts within the male (and female) gender, starting with introverts and extroverts. Women are therefore far from being the only ones who would benefit from a change in mindset.
Inequality in the relationship to speech is at the root of many other inequalities, which is why it is so important to tackle it. Additionally, companies will benefit from promoting (and prevent from losing) great employees who are not sufficiently recognized. They will also gain more from their contributions.
Now that I have come to this conclusion, a question remains:
What can be done to solve this problem?
As stated earlier, women generally speak up less in meetings than men. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that they will only express an opinion if they consider themselves very competent on the subject. The second reason is related to what is called “manterrupting”.
For those who are not familiar with this term, here is the definition, which I gave in TIP#3: “The regular cutting off of women’s voices in meetings not only denies their competence, but also allows men to take ownership their ideas. A word has even been coined to define this phenomenon, which is far more common than it seems: manterrupting. “.
Thus, being accustomed to having their voices cut off, women are more hesitant to speak up.
The good news is that it is quite simple to improve this situation. Just stay cautious during the meeting and go around the table regularly, asking those who have not yet spoken to give their opinions. This way you will get a real diversity of thoughts, instead only listening to those who are more expansive.
When someone expresses an original idea or even one that goes against the grain of the status quo, don’t fall into the “it will never work” trap. Innovation is based on the variety of ideas and therefore requires being open to unconventional ideas.
As for the issue of cutting people off, even though this is more often the result of an unconscious act rather than a bad intention, it must be treated with my famous “zero tolerance”. I once worked with a very enthusiastic man who had the habit of systematically cutting off his female colleagues. Why women? Certainly out of impatience, because they spoke with a small, timid voice, which was easy to interrupt. After asking him several times to stop doing it, I ended up playing the provocation card: “I know that you think, as a man, that your voice matters more than women’s, but I would like to listen to them.” I didn’t mean it of course, but it had the merit of opening his eyes to his inappropriate behavior, which never happened again.
Another equally effective option is to ask everyone to share their opinion by email, or in person (during a one-on-one meetings) for those who have difficulty expressing ideas in writing. This allows for input from employees who are uncomfortable in public and won’t speak up in a meeting.
Don’t miss out on diversity of thought and speech.
Speech is a crucial issue in the fight for the cause of women. Companies would benefit a lot from listening more to their employees. Recognizing everyone’s work for what it’s worth (and not for the share of talking in a conversation) is also about being more fair. After all, if there’s one thing we’re learning in the age of social media, it’s that it’s not always the people who take up the most space in the public arena who deserve the most to be heard.
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