This scenario inevitably plays out at some point in a woman’s career: She speaks up at work and is abruptly cut off by a male colleague. A phenomenon long noted in feminist circles is generating more mainstream conversation than ever after some recent high-profile examples – from U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) being cut off by her male colleagues during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, to an Uber CEO’s notorious remarks about women board members talking too much.
“If you talk to any woman in the workplace,” says Brande Stellings, senior vice president of Advisory Services for the nonprofit Catalyst “she would say that pretty much describes the normal day at the office.”
Stellings, whose organization promotes inclusion for women in workplaces, says that there tends to be a “perception gap” between women and men when it comes to recognizing the problem. While obvious to women, research done by Catalyst shows that the dismissive treatment women receive when speaking up at work appears to be invisible to men.
With only 62 women ever serving as CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the overwhelming prevalence of male-dominated companies in the United States is the root of the issue, Stellings says.
“It’s very hard for people to used to seeing women in these positions of authority,” she says.
Women have to put in twice the effort to overcome stereotypes, Stellings says, in order to move their way up the career ladder. In her consultations with companies, Stellings hears about frustrations surrounding the accumulation of small instances where women’s ideas are ignored or passed over.
“When you talk about it,” Stellings says, “it sounds like a trivial thing: ‘Oh, someone interrupted me,’ or ‘I didn’t get called in the meeting,’ or ‘I gave an idea and no one listened to it and then two minutes later, a guy said it and suddenly it’s the best idea.'”
These types of slights make it difficult for women to be taken seriously, she says. The result is fewer women ending up in leadership positions because their contributions go unrecognized.
Stellings suggests that the next time a woman speaks in the workplace, that we ask whether we’d listen to the message in the same way if it were a man talking. This stops the bias at the moment where it occurs. More examples of female leaders – particularly women minority leaders — also contributes to improved workplace experiences for women.
Written by Louise Rodriguez