Manterrupting Is Back in the News

Manterrupting, or men interrupting women has been making the news…again. From the Uber boardroom to the US Senate, powerful women, including Arianna Huffington and Senator Kamala Harris, have been victims, proving once again that when women break the glass ceiling, their journey is just getting started. In fact, women who step on to majority-male boards or committees often encounter barriers to their authority from men who, whether intentionally or not, monopolize the discussion or interrupt women’s speaking turns.
Last week, Tali Mendelberg and Chris Karpowitz told CNN that women need more than a seat at the table, and shared their studies revealing that women are silenced when they hold a smaller percentage of the room. Between 2007 and 2009, Mendelberg and Karpowitz looked at how women exercise authority in groups where they are a minority. Their findings showed that, “Where women make up a minority, they speak less, receive more hostile interruptions, refrain from articulating their views, and are rarely rated as influential. In other words, in meetings where women are scarce, they are actively disrespected. The group suffers, too, as its range of perspectives shrinks.”
The phenomenon hasn’t decreased with time. In 2015, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant wrote in the New York Times about the perils of “speaking while female,” along with research proving that this happens to all women at some point. In the case of recent manterrupting involving Senator Harris, Sandberg and Grant reported that powerful male senators speak significantly more than their junior colleagues, while female senators do not.
They further cite that male executives who speak more often than their peers are deemed more competent (10% more), while female executives who speak up are considered less (14% less). Following the research, the two found that in the workplace, many women speak less, are interrupted more, and have their ideas more harshly scrutinized.
This has to change. Women have to be able to gain equal time on the floor and be shown enough respect to make their ideas heard. Gender communication expert and Leading Women co-author, Claire Damken Brown, Ph.D., urges women to speak out and get their voices heard to build their credibility as leaders, and in the case of manterrupting, she shares strategies for recapturing the idea:

  • Bring attention back to yourself
  • Buddy up with someone in advance and have them bring the attention back to you
  • Seek help from the meeting facilitator.

This final point, however, she warns might not work. The facilitator often gets caught up in the meeting and doesn’t control the flow of dialogue. It is most important to speak out for yourself. That’s why she stresses that the only way to be perceived as a leader is to express your idea clearly and make sure your voice is heard.
Bottom line, nothing squashes creativity and innovation faster than a perceived lack of respect for others’ opinions, and manterrupting, whether intentional or not is definitely disrespectful. Progress comes from mutual respect. The pendulum is swinging, and women are taking to the streets to make their voices heard, recognizing that their voices do have merit, and their opinions do matter. That means it’s time to clear the manterrupting from the conversation, and truly work together.

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