When I joined my first national board a decade ago, many of the female directors complained that the male directors ignored their ideas. But THEN, amazingly enough, when it became THEIR idea, it was remarkably brilliant!
While I was a bit skeptical at first, anecdotally, it seemed to happen more often than not. But, from my vantage point, that didn’t happen to me – at least I didn’t think so at the time. (Truth be told, I’m hard to ignore at a board meeting!)
Well, now the research has proved the point: Men get the credit for voicing the ideas. In two different studies, the researchers found:
Men who spoke up with ideas were seen as having higher status and were more likely to emerge as leaders. Women did not receive any benefits in status or leader emergence from speaking up, regardless of whether they did so promotively or prohibitively.
Interestingly enough, both men AND women gave men more status when speaking up, but not to women!
So what do we do about this?
Provide opportunities for women to “lean in” and speak up. Whether it is going around the table so that everyone has the opportunity to express their ideas or making it a point to call on women in meetings, create the space to hear their input. You can also look for less formal contexts to ask for women’s improvement-oriented suggestions.
While it’s important to provide the space for women to speak up, it is also just as important for everyone to pay attention to the suggestion. Okay, I gotta ask: Isn’t this just good team skills that we should listen to all ideas regardless of the provenance of gender, race, ethnicity etc.?
Evidently not. The researchers counter that argument. “After all, if our natural tendency is to give less recognition to women’s ideas, then we will need to make an extra effort to overcome this bias. And given that women are interrupted more often than men are when speaking up in groups, we suggest managers be vigilant about ensuring that equal respect is shown to women when they are voicing their ideas.”
Fair enough. As a facilitator, I also find it helpful to capture the ideas on a flipchart or other medium, so that when that brilliant idea pops forth from a man’s lips, we can point to the idea expressed previously by his female teammate.
So let’s go out there and use our extraordinary team skills regardless of gender!
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.
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