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October 2016 - President's Message
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President's Message - OCTOBER

Stacy Horth-Neubert
WLALA President 2016-2017

Do Right Where You Belong: Amplify

If there is a silver lining in this year's long, dreadful Presidential campaign, it might be that the American press and people have started to learn about -- and maybe even grapple with -- the phenomena of "manterruption," "mansplaining," and "bropropriation."[1]  You might not have heard of the terms before, but if you are a woman lawyer, I am willing to bet you have experienced these behaviors in practice.  Like yesterday, when you were meeting with your team of male colleagues -- who kept interrupting you (even though you're a strong, confident and persistent contributor), ignoring the ideas you suggested but then later took credit for them, and then explaining that your failure to speak up in meetings really reflects badly on your suitability for a leadership position on the team.  Sound familiar?

This particular American conversation came to some prominence at least as early as last year, when Sheryl Sandberg -- of Lean In fame -- and Adam Grant wrote an opinion piece for the Sunday New York Times in which they decried these practices.  There, the authors also described a recent study which found:

"Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings. As this and other research shows, women who worry that talking 'too much' will cause them to be disliked are not paranoid; they are often right."[2]

Accordingly, in addition to being interrupted by male colleagues, women also silence themselves. 

Sandberg, Grant, and others have offered several helpful ideas for how to interrupt the gender bias that leads to these behaviors, so that businesses can get the benefit of their full talent pool.  Of course, the obvious starting point is recognizing the problem:  take an implicit bias test.  The tests are quick and interesting and easily accessible.[3]  And now, they are not even called "bias" tests:  Harvard now calls its test an "Implicit Associations" test.  So even those of you who are convinced you have no implicit "biases" can take this test as a first step towards correcting for your implicit "associations."  Other proposals include:  using meeting agendas with assigned topic leaders, taking turns, practicing assertive body language, and reminding people at the outset of meetings that interrupting is counterproductive.[4]

But the one idea that really has captured my attention as a means to counter "bropropriation" was adopted by the women in President Obama's inner circle – a strategy they called "amplification": 

"When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author.  This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution – and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own."[5]

And, it seems, it not only got the President's attention, it also worked:  Women reportedly gained parity in President Obama's inner circle during his second term.

"Amplification" also is merely a new term for a not-so-new idea.  You probably have some colleagues with whom you already are doing this, consciously or not.  It is certainly an idea that WLALA has been promoting in one form or another for years through our programming and networking events.

But what is new is the fact that so many of us are talking about it now.  Not just the ladies.  Which means that next time you are in that meeting with your male colleagues – probably without another female – one of the guys might be thinking about this, and maybe he'll amplify for you.  And if he doesn't?  Well, maybe you have to amplify for yourself. 

But, the rest of the time, let's not leave it to chance.  Let's all agree to amplify each other's voices wherever and whenever we can.  I will if you will.

 


[1]       Dr. Arin N. Reeves, Mansplaining, Manterrupting & Bropropriating:  Gender Bias and the Pervasive Interruption of Women (2015), http://www.nextions.com/wp-content/files_mf/142850844520150415ManterruptionsBropropriationandMansplaining2YPS.pdf.

[2]       Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Speaking While Female:  Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on Why Women Stay Quiet at Work, N.Y. Times, January 12, 2015.  

[3]       Two such implicit associations tests are available here:

- Project Implicit, https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

-Understanding Prejudice:  Implicit Associations Test, http://www.understandingprejudice.org/iat/index2.htm.

[4]       See Reeves, supra n.1; Jessica Bennett, How Not to Be ‘Manterrupted’ in Meetings, Time, Jan. 20, 2015, http://time.com/3666135/sheryl-sandberg-talking-while-female-manterruptions/.

[5]       Emily Crockett, The amazing tool that women in the White House used to fight gender bias, Vox, Sept. 14, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/9/14/12914370/white-house-obama-women-gender-bias-amplification, quoting, Juliet Eilperin, White House women want to be in the room where it happens, The Washington Post, Sept. 13, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/09/13/white-house-women-are-now-in-the-room-where-it-happens/.

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2/8/2017
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