Paul L. Caron

Thursday, April 16, 2020

NY Times: Zoom Amplifies Discrimination Women Face In Meetings

New York Times, It’s Not Just You: Virtual Meetings Aren’t All That Great:

Zoom MeetingLast week, Mita Mallick tried to share an opinion during an online meeting but her voice was drowned out.

“I’m interrupted, like, three times and then I try to speak again and then two other people are speaking at the same time interrupting each other,” said Mallick, head of diversity and inclusion at the consumer goods company Unilever.

When she finally did get a word in, she couldn’t gauge anyone’s response. She cracked a joke and couldn’t determine if anyone was laughing. She couldn’t tell if anyone agreed with the points she was trying to make. She just saw blank stares.

Remote meetings are also starting to crystallize how much harder it is for women to be heard in group settings.

Countless studies have shown that workplace meetings are riddled with inequities. One study by the Yale psychologist Victoria Brescoll found that when male executives spoke more often, they were perceived to be more competent, but when female executives spoke more often, they were given lower competence ratings. The annual McKinsey and Women in the Workplace report, which in 2019 surveyed 329 companies and more than 68,000 employees, found that half of the surveyed women had experienced being interrupted or spoken over and 38 percent had others take credit for their ideas.

Online, these imbalances are amplified, according to Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University who has been studying how men and women speak for decades.

In her research, Tannen found that many of the inequities in meetings can be boiled down to gender differences in conversation styles and conventions. That includes speaking time, the length of pauses between speakers, the frequency of questions and the amount of overlapping talk. More often than not, men and women differ on almost every one of those aspects, Tannen said, which leads to clashes and misunderstandings.

“Women often feel that they don’t want to take up more space than necessary so they’ll often be more succinct,” she explained, and they tend to speak in more self-deprecating or indirect ways in order to come across as likable.

Men, on the other hand, tend to speak longer and they can be more argumentative and critical in order to be perceived as authoritative. ...

during the coronavirus pandemic, as Tannen transitioned to teaching her classes on Zoom, she expected her more reticent students to be more comfortable with speaking out in class but found that for many the new digital classroom had the inverse effect.

“You’re looking at a screen with everybody’s face staring back at you. It can be even more intimidating,” she explained.

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Men interrupt women more than women interrupt men. And men who interrupt women are more likely to accuse women of interrupting them than women are to accuse men of interrupting them. Women often make statements in meetings with mostly men that are ignored, only to see another man repeat the idea minutes later and be treated by the group of men as coming up with a wonderful idea. Every woman I have talked to about these experiences has confirmed that she sees this happen often. Perhaps you male commenters who are busy making fun of, scoffing at, challenging the competence of this female writer should step back to consider the fact that these are bullying behaviors that have no place on a serious website. (Oh, and men use humor to make comments more personable quite frequently, yet note how you treat a woman reporting that she also did so in a meeting.)

Posted by: Linda Beale | Apr 21, 2020 12:23:31 PM

Deborah Tannen almost certainly right. Men use various techniques to get respect in group discussions. Faced with a virtual audience, they adapt to achieve the same result. Women fail more often because they don't learn those techniques in in person or online. It's not sexism. It's a skill to be learned.

Posted by: Mike Perry | Apr 19, 2020 3:39:55 PM

The comments here are revealing--mostly male, mocking the female commenter for her views about male interruptions. Every woman in a meeting with mostly men has experienced the interruptions and talking over that she mentions. Every woman in a meeting with mostly men has experienced being treated as incompetent when suggesting an idea or solution, only to find that minutes later a man repeats the exact same idea or solution and is hailed as an astute thinker and given credit for the woman's idea. This happens all the time. The snark in the men's comments here is typical of the way some men cannot recognize their own power games and the ways that they belittle women in order to maintain status and power for themselves.

Posted by: TaxGal | Apr 19, 2020 12:28:08 PM

Unilever. Maker of consumer products. Does my Jimmy Dean sausage egg and cheese biscuit have to be diverse to be good?

Posted by: Publius | Apr 17, 2020 6:31:52 PM

All the interrupting couldn't POSSIBLY be due to network lag either could it.

Posted by: Kenneth Irving Cramer | Apr 17, 2020 3:53:14 PM

What a silly woman. She deserves to be in diversity and inclusion, Let me give this novice a hint. A zoom host will mute anyone not speaking. So if you tell a joke, don't expect to hear laughter. The only way two people can speaking is if the host allows it. On the other hand, you can have no host, so anyone can speak. But your joke may not be funny.

Posted by: Rick Caird | Apr 17, 2020 12:24:39 PM

Mallick, head of diversity and inclusion. Lost me right there. I'd tune her out.

Posted by: Steve Konde | Apr 17, 2020 7:34:52 AM

Interrupting is not due to discrimination, it’s because of poor leadership by the committee chair. Obviously he or she lost control of the meeting.

Posted by: William | Apr 17, 2020 6:33:36 AM

VP of Diversity and Inclusion? Sounds like she has already won the battle.

Posted by: Larry Weber | Apr 17, 2020 4:52:50 AM

Perhaps Ms. Mallick's "joke" was unappreciated during a meeting in which the others were limiting their remarks to the essential point of the meeting.

Posted by: Frank Lesser | Apr 17, 2020 4:50:47 AM

One more example of why things tended to be sex segregated in traditional society. Accumulated wisdom should not be so easily discarded, especially when you never bother to find out why things were the way they were.

Posted by: Craig | Apr 17, 2020 4:50:08 AM

John Wayne explained the problem.

Posted by: Robert Arvanitis | Apr 17, 2020 4:45:22 AM

hahahahahahahahaha :)

What did you expect?

Posted by: Mary Kemper | Apr 17, 2020 4:35:19 AM