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