Listen and Learn from Herstory

Everyone wants to feel heard and valued, but some voices are historically excluded because of ingrained social patterns and bias.
Listen and Learn from Herstory

March is Women’s History Month, so let’s talk about how women are heard and valued in their work, and the importance of our own personal and collective Herstories.

Most of us can remember a time that someone sent a word our way and it stuck with us. It may have been the first time we received a truly accurate compliment or the time a friend or sibling called us a name, but either way it stuck. This experience reminds us that what we say has weight and power.

Here’s a simple exercise — notice how the different communication styles of the people in your life make you feel; are you often interrupted or talked-over, or do you dominate conversations and meetings? Are your words and ideas valued or dismissed by peers or your boss?

In a recent survey of 1,100 U.S. working adults over the age of 18, Catalyst, a nonprofit that works to accelerate women into leadership, found that 45% of women business leaders say it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings and one in five women say they’ve felt ignored or overlooked by colleagues during video calls. Additionally, three in five female employees say they feel like their prospects of getting a promotion are worse in their new remote work environment.

The unconscious bias: Men have more to contribute.

What happens: Multiple studies have reached the same conclusion — women are far more likely to be interrupted in meetings and their ideas are taken less seriously. It’s so common that some researchers have created a taxonomy to explain everything from “manterrupting” (a man unnecessarily interrupting a woman) to “mansplaining” (a man interrupting a woman to explain something that she actually knows more about than he does) to “bropropriating” (a man taking credit for a woman’s idea).

Overcoming the bias:

  • Reframe the conversation: This problem is a business performance issue, not a “women’s issue.” Both men and women have a vested interest in overcoming the bias. Enlist progressive men to lead by example, and hold them accountable for making space for their female counterparts to contribute.
  • Balance the playing field with ground rules such as “no talking over each other” or going around the table when you’re seeking input on a critical decision.
  • Foster a culture in which men and women alike are encouraged to “call it out” when they see someone being inadvertently silenced in a discussion.
  • Take the worst offenders aside and point out their behavior — they may be unaware of it.

By overcoming gender biases, organizations can elevate their collective thinking, giving them a much greater chance of realizing the full potential of their entire paid and volunteer workforce — not just the few who are able to easily make their voices heard.

Active Listening 

Every interaction with a team member is an invitation to stay or an invitation to go.

It costs nothing to listen and to shift your own perspective, attitude, leadership, or communication style. There is a big difference in taking “with” or ”to” or “at” an individual or a group. Which one feels good? Bad? What do you think is truly most effective?

I am calling male colleagues to be mindful of their own unconscious biases and use of dismissive language with female teammates. Practice active listening (see chart below), and notice how the words you say and hear affect your body and your emotional state. Also, watch closely to see how your own words come out and what impact, compared to your intent, they have on the people around you. 

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