Getting heard in the workplace: a matter of gender equality?

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At a time when gender equality is becoming a major qualifier of success for Australian companies, do women have to work harder to have their views heard?

Here is an assertion that I hear from many Australian leaders, both male and female: Women need to speak up more at work.

I am not saying there is no truth to this statement. I know many women who, like me, have spent their days beavering away at their to-do lists, assuming that their excellent work will speak for itself.

But the idea that women need to speak up more at work ignores a fundamental truth. Many times, women are speaking up at work. And they are not being heard.

We recently completed a number of gender diversity surveys for large global and Australian organisations. We asked men and women about the barriers for women in their workplaces. Many themes emerged, but women not being listened to was a commonly expressed concern:

“I have heard of situations where women have been invisible, ‘mansplained’ or relegated to note-taking.”

“At times I have seen female participants in a discussion need confirmation from a male before a point is accepted.”

“The opinions of the men on the team were sought and respected, even if the women had said the same thing.”

“You will be in a meeting and a woman will say something and it will just get lost in the mix.”

I recently heard a trans-gender woman speak about her experience working at an organisation as a man, and then as a woman. She told me that, as a man, her opinion was never questioned. As a woman, working in the same organisation, she was asked to bring an executive along to ensure her opinion was correct. She was unequivocal in saying that the boys club is real, that male privilege is real, that men are inherently listened to more than women.

“Women are interrupted 3 times more than men at work.”

The research backs her up: women are interrupted 3 times more than men at work.

At Inkling Women we work with many organisations that are trying to tap into their female talent. This task becomes very difficult indeed if your female talent is routinely ignored or interrupted in the meeting room.

Here’s my suggestion: Do not tolerate interruptions at work. Call people on it. If you notice that a woman expressed an opinion that was ignored, and the opinion was acknowledged when expressed by a man 5 minutes later, call this kind of behaviour out. It is most often unconsciously done. It is only when attention is drawn to interruptions at work that unconscious behaviour becomes conscious – and change can start to occur.


As published by CEO Magazine, 1 December 2016.

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