I read “Speaking While Female” in the NY Times today, and felt a mixture of recognition, relief, frustration, and depression. Recognition – the stories told were all too familiar. Relief – that it wasn’t just me. Frustration – that nobody else seems to have solved the problem either. And depression – because it doesn’t seem like this is a problem that is going to change within my lifetime.
There’s this example from the article, to start. Something very similar happened to me at a meeting, just within the last week (not for the first time, either):
When a woman speaks in a professional setting … 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.
It’s pretty frustrating to experience. If it happens too often, it’s easy to become demoralized and think “Why bother?”.
And even more depressing was this:
When male employees contributed ideas that brought in new revenue, they got significantly higher performance evaluations. But female employees who spoke up with equally valuable ideas did not improve their managers’ perception of their performance. Also, the more the men spoke up, the more helpful their managers believed them to be. But when women spoke up more, there was no increase in their perceived helpfulness.
So what is a woman to do? Speak up and be punished for upsetting the established power dynamic, or stay silent and locked in the status quo? Talk about a no-win situation. It’s no wonder that a woman has to work twice as hard to be thought half as good as a man.
Some have suggested the way out is for more women to start their own businesses. When you’re the boss, after all, the power dynamic is in your favor. And that solution may work for some women, but it doesn’t solve the issue for existing organizations.
Some companies (like Google) are starting to implement processes to try to deflect this built-in bias, but it remains to be seen if those tactics will work.
In the meantime, we working women are stuck in the middle.
What would you do?