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  • Emerging Ally

Reclaiming my time!

I have been fortunate to have known many strong women. As co-workers. As friends. As family. I am married to an amazing one.

They are professionals: Actuaries, Engineers, Doctors, Teachers, Lawyers,…

They are Senior Vice Presidents, IT leaders, Chief Actuaries, Entrepreneurs, ….

And they all have one thing in common.

They get interrupted….. By men…

All. The. Time.

In meetings. In social situations.

Somehow we males seem to always need to flap our gums. We pause for other guys. But women…. Not so much.

I have been in meetings where Senior Vice Presidents can’t get a word in edgewise over all the men talking over her. And men at all levels.

I have done it. Didn’t mean to but I have.

I learned about this after I got some feedback on it from someone I trust. I also started talking to women at the office and listen to the stories of my friends. They all said the same thing. It happens all the time.

So I tried to be better. Watch myself. It was hard to relearn how to handle meetings. I started taking notes in meetings around speakers. If you look at my notes it may seem like I am doodling but I am often ticking off how many times female leaders are interrupted.

Training sessions are generally the worst. Particularly those with male speakers. In one off-site management training it got so bad I shared my statistics with the training lead. When hands were raised the speaker always, without fail, called on the male participants first. Really bad.

I started to watch a few senior leaders.

I noticed many male leaders talked over their female counterparts.

I watched women I knew in those meetings. I could see their frustration. They would then speak up out of frustration to make their point. Many times they were the expert in the room and were getting drowned out.

Several would later get admonished for interrupting adding to their frustration. They were being overrun in the meeting and not being given space. They were interrupting others because others were interrupting them and not giving them the chance to express their view.

However I started to notice one leader who would continually stop the conversation. He would then turn to his female counterpart who was trying to say something and ask if she had some thoughts. Intentionally giving her space. He would then thank her and acknowledge the point - supporting her. Using his position to create a pause in the conversation.

And female executives took notice. They wanted to work on teams with him and on projects he led. He attracted talent.

Also meetings with him eventually took a different approach. He was modeling the behavior and others followed.

So I have shifted how I handle meetings. I look around (even on Zoom) and see where women want to make a point and if they aren’t getting space I try to point out that someone wants to speak.

I also try to manage my participation so I don’t talk over female voices. I indicate with a shift of position and lean forward in my chair, but don’t speak. On Zoom calls I find the raise hand feature is great for this.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters during a house committee hearing created a stir by continually using the phrase “reclaiming my time” as the male witness continually refused to allow her space to speak. It became a meme as it struck a cord for many women - regardless of their political leaning. If a congressperson needs help to keep from getting interrupted, maybe we all need to figure out how to help our friends and coworkers.

As always I hope this helps. I look forward to continuing the conversation. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

All the best,

Dave Terné

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Mar 11, 2023

I highly recommend Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk on this topic - Really opened my eyes and made me notice how frequently this happens.

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