That Uber board member was right – more women does mean more talking.
Because we have to repeat ourselves multiple times to be heard and start over every time we get interrupted.
Look at Kamala Harris. I came home from work last week and my husband filled me in a little bit on the Jeff Sessions hearing, which I hadn’t watched.
“They kept interrupting Kamala Harris!” he said. “And they didn’t interrupt any of the men!”
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I tried to register shock, but my face wouldn’t go there.
(Actual New York Times headline: “Kamala Harris Is (Again) Interrupted While Pressing a Senate Witness.”)
What Bonderman said
Uber board member David Bonderman stepped down earlier this month after catching heat for what I assume was an attempt at a joke.
Fellow board member Arianna Huffington was discussing how one woman on a board leads to more women joining a board. Bonderman replied, “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.”
Huffington replied, “Oh, come on, David.”
And the exchange happened at a meeting about the company’s lousy culture. LOL.
Statistically speaking, Bonderman’s statement was inaccurate. Researchers at Brigham Young University and Princeton University found that on school boards, governing boards of organizations and firms, and legislative committees, women speak significantly less often than men.
But I don’t think he was trying to cite research. I think he thought he was at a Christmas party, and it was the end of the evening where all the men gather and joke about how long it will take their chatty wives to say their goodbyes.
Anyway, his heart was in the wrong place, but his statement was hardly shocking. Multiple studies show women are marginalized in meetings and conversations.
Backed by facts
In “Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversations” sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West recorded and analyzed public conversations between two people: 10 between two men, 10 between two women and 11 between a man and a woman. In the same-sex groups, a total of seven interruptions happened. In the male/female group, there were 48 interruptions. And 46 of them were a man interrupting a woman.
A 2014 study at George Washington University found that men interrupt women 2.1 times during a three-minute conversation — 33 percent more often than when they talk with men.
Remember the pact that female Obama staffers made to amplify each other’s voices in meetings? When a woman made a key point, the other women in the room would repeat it and give credit to its originator. (More talking!)
“’Woman in a Meeting’ is a language of its own,” The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri wrote in 2015.
Not only do you have the interruptions, but you have the misinterpretations.
“You will think that you have stated the case simply and effectively, and everyone else will wonder why you were so Terrifyingly Angry,” Petri wrote. “Instead, you have to translate. You start with your thought, then you figure out how to say it as though you were offering a groveling apology for an unspecified error.”
Her essay was emailed and Facebook shared roughly 7 gazillion times by my female friends.
We get it. We know where Bonderman was coming from — a place where women are perceived to be chatty and moody and ripe for ridicule because who doesn’t love a little gender stereotyping to ease the tension at an uncomfortable conference, ha ha.
And now he’s gone. Fine. He’s a billionaire, and I think he’ll still find ways to fill his time.
How to respond
But a lot of us are still stuck going to meetings. For that, I’ll leave you with the advice of Jessica Bennett, author of “Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace).”
If you witness a woman being interrupted: “You can be a Manterrupter Interrupter, interjecting manterruptions on behalf of your female colleagues,” Bennett writes. “It’s as easy as, ‘Hey, can you let her finish?’”
If you’re being interrupted: “Just keep talking. Keep your pauses short. Maintain your momentum. No matter if he waves his hands, raises his voice or squirms in his chair, you do you,” she writes. Or, push back. “Bob, I wasn’t done finishing that point. Give me one more sec.”
It’s more talking. But it’s also more equal. And that’s a good thing for everyone.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may email her at email@example.com.