Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion about how women are frequently interrupted, ignored or talked over by men. Two specific incidents brought this ingrained aspect of male/female interactions into the spotlight: Senator Kamala Harris being interrupted twice during major Committee hearings and a snide comment by a fellow Uber board member aimed at Arianna Huffington.
According to an article in the New York Times, The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting, “Researchers consistently find that women are interrupted more and that men dominate conversations and decision-making in corporate offices, town meetings, school boards and the United States Senate.”
That assessment has been confirmed hundreds of times as WOMEN Unlimited works at helping talented women become high-powered corporate leaders. When they enter our programs, women at all levels share their frustrations in making their voices heard and in highlighting their talents to those who can impact their career success.
We help these women navigate a complicated corporate world, by owning their own strengths and competencies and confidently putting them forward…a world which for the immediate future will likely be dominated by their male counterparts. According to the New York Times article, women make up only 20% of the boards of Fortune 500 companies and just a little over 19% of Congress.
Much attention is understandably placed on “changing corporate culture” as a solution to helping women take their rightful place at the table. WOMEN Unlimited, while certainly acknowledging that need, takes a multi-dimensional tack. Our goal is to develop female leaders who have the tools, talents and techniques they need to make themselves heard and to be taken seriously in any corporate environment.
What do women themselves need to do?
Most women know there’s a problem, but are unsure about how to fix it. Here are some action steps women can take:
- Women need to realistically assess their skills and talents vis a vis the needs of the organization so they understand their potential for substantially contributing to corporate success.
- Women can’t go it alone. Male and female mentors and networks are crucial developmental relationships. They help women formulate a clearer understanding of both themselves and their organizations and become a more integral part of the decision making process.
- Lack of confidence and aversion to risk are two challenges that women (and their managers) continually pinpoint as stumbling blocks to success. Acknowledging her talents and taking on high-visibility projects outside her normal comfort zone are game changers for a woman as she looks to being taken seriously.
- Getting passed being interrupted or ignored, requires a cadre of strategies. Women need to customize their strategies based on their particular corporate landscape. There will be times when silence may be golden. Other times, when taking and holding the floor is what’s called for. Still other situations will require the ability to confront without alienating. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The failure to take women seriously is NOT just a problem for women. It’s a high-stakes organizational issue, causing corporations to lose out on income-generating ideas when talented women shut down or leave, in light of being consistently interrupted and ignored.
So yes, let’s work at changing corporate cultures that don’t take women seriously enough. But let’s not for a moment forget that women are key players in making that change happen!
Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.