Don’t Shhhh Me! 6 Ways To Let Women Leaders Have Their Say

The high profile silencing of women experts this past week has been stunning.At a nearly all-male panel of five men and one woman at the World Science Festival in New York, Veronika Hubeny, theoretical physicist at University of California- Davis, was interrupted, talked over and her theories explained to her by New Yorker moderator Jim Holt.Mansplaining at its best.[bctt tweet=“Every #womanleader can use strategies to keep from being silenced in meetings and on panels” username=“takeleadwomen”]That is, until audience member Marilee Talkington, an actress, director and disability rights advocate, shouted from the audience, “Let her speak, please,” and the audience nearly burst into flames. Talkington wrote a Facebook post about the incident and the YouTube video has been shared 120,000 times.Talkington writes in her post, “The sexism is beyond blatant. It is happening on stage and NO ONE, not a single other physicist or panelist is stepping in to say anything about it. And I can hear other audience members around me, both men and women becoming more and more agitated with what is happening. Jim Holt, even at one point, asks Veronica a question and she laughs because he has been answering his own questions about her work…and he makes fun of her for ‘giggling.’”And in true Divine Miss M style, Bette Midler refused to be silenced during her acceptance speech at the Tony Awards for her role in “Hello, Dolly.” She told the orchestra to be quiet. “Midler took the best actress trophy and — to the amusement and cheers of the audience — refused to be played off, forcing the swelling orchestra into silence,” according to the Associated Press.Republican California Senator Kamala Harris was silenced at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, calling us all back to the #shepersisted meme as a result of the silencing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren earlier this year.At Apple, women accounted for 7 percent of the speaking time at Apple’s recent conference, according to Mic.[bctt tweet=“Women accounted for 7% of the speaking time at Apple’s recent conference #LetHerSpeak” username=“takeleadwomen”]

“We calculated approximate speaking time for men versus women during Apple’s Worldwide Developers’ Conference keynote on Monday, and gender representation was worse than the last two years. Men spoke for approximately 117 minutes. Women spoke for approximately 9 minutes. Of those 9 minutes, a few were relegated to a woman demoing a product backstage, with another male speaker in the foreground,” writes Melanie Ehrenkranz in Mic.

It seems all women leaders experience mansplaining, and some are collected here by The Independent. We offered tools of persisterhood earlier this year on what to do when women are silenced. We are not referring to the plague of manels, as we have offered strategies to achieve gender equity among expert panels.I have worked in organizations where no one dared say a word in a meeting unless called upon by the boss. Everyone was afraid and if you were called on, it could be for praise or it could be for a public verbal spanking. So at some meetings, no one would say a peep.While it is not new for mansplaining to erupt, it does appear to be persisting, so we now offer tools of what to do in the moment, not just for yourself, but for your female colleagues when you see it happening in real time. You may feel moved to speak up from the audience as Talkington did when she said, “Let her speak, please,” but you also may want to try some of these other options.

  1. Back up your female colleague in the moment. If you wait to send an email expressing frustration, and the moment is over. Point out politely if a colleague is interrupted. If a man speaks over you or your colleague, remind the speaker that she said it first. Do not use anger or shout, but be timely for sure. [bctt tweet=“If someone speaks over you or your colleague, remind the speaker she said it first #WomenLeaders” username=“takeleadwomen”]

  2. Enlist male colleagues to back you up. They do not have to agree with you, but they sure can say, “Let her finish speaking,” or “I do not agree, but she has a right to speak.” Ask for support in advance.

  3. Ask your female colleagues to back you up when you are at podium, microphone or standing up in a meeting. If you feel you may be talked over, enlist support ahead of the meeting or conference. And if you are interrupted, keep talking. Say politely, “I am not finished, thank you.” Keep talking.

  4. If you are leading the meeting, make sure the rules are clear. That means expressing at the start that no one can be rude, interrupt another, talk over another or make personal attacks. Ask for buy-in of civility and respect with the group. You may want to write the rules on the whiteboard, or have them in the agenda, send them in advance of the meeting by email and ask someone to read them out loud. Then ask for a show of hands for everyone in the meeting to agree to abide by the rules. You can also have a physical talisman that symbolizes who has the floor. It can be as simple as a rock or a paperweight, but whoever is holding it at the time, is allowed to speak without interruption. When someone interrupts, remind him or her of the rules they agreed to abide.

  5. Make sure no one person dominates the conversation, the meeting, the conference, the room. I taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels at a top university for 18 years, and for the last six years have been a facilitator leading seminars and workshops around the world. Sometimes there is an alpha personality who tries to take over. Many times—not always—it is a male—who is talking over other women. As the leader of the meeting, step in and say, “Thank you for your engagement, now it’s time to hear from other people.”

  6. Encourage dialog and don’t interrupt. Model a format for the expression of all voices and make sure everyone in a meeting or in a company culture feels welcomed and heard. You can do that by having a suggestion box perhaps for ideas and also by welcoming everyone to speak at meetings.

Take The Lead has the goal of gender parity in leadership across all sectors by 2025. Moving toward that mission, Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead, offers 9 Leadership Power Tools and strategies to approach a career and life as having the power to accomplish goals, rather than having power over someone or something.Interrupting someone as she speaks is a misuse of power, and expressing power over someone. Assuming your own power to speak what is necessary when and where it is appropriate is grasping the necessary tools for effective leadership. Gender parity is possible when all parties assume each individual has his or her own power to accomplish individual goals.Perhaps the climate will shift and the next generation of women leaders will not be told to shut up.  Aiming for that goal, Chelsea Clinton recently released her new children’s book, She Persisted, dedicated to women who have been silenced.According to The Blaze, Clinton said, “I wrote this book for everyone who’s ever wanted to speak up but has been told to quiet down, for everyone who’s ever been made to feel less than.”Clinton added, “The 13 women in ‘She Persisted’ all overcame adversity to help shape our country — sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. With this book, I want to send a message to young readers around the country — and the world — that persistence is power.”