In workplaces dominated by men, women often struggle to speak, and when they do, they are promptly interrupted. They come, they seize, you cease. We are all familiar with the phenomenon of ‘manterrupting’ — where men jump into something a woman was saying and carry the conversation on from there, and the woman is forced to stop talking, mid-sentence, mid-sentiment.

In professional settings, work meetings are often dominated by men talking, women struggling to get a word in, and getting promptly interrupted when they do open their mouths.

Enough research exists to back up this universal human experience, and the findings of the latest, done in the US, are stark. According to an article in Bloomberg, “in a study of more than 155,000 company conference calls over the past 19 years, Prattle (a firm that provides automated research), found that men spoke 92 percent of the time.”

That’s right — 92% of the time.

While this was partially because the number of men was more than women, it was also because men asked more questions, and gave longer answers to the questions put to them.

Very little of such research has been carried out in India, but our lived experiences corroborate this reality. Women at work face a double bind — if they speak too little, they don’t get visibility and recognition. If they speak too much, they are seen as loud, aggressive and pushy.

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Men speaking and raising questions often, on the other hand, are seen as confident, taking initiative, and being more productive.

There is also ‘bropropriation’ — where a man gets credit for a woman’s idea only because he repeated it more loudly, and more assertively.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and Adam Grant, an American psychologist, put this succinctly in an article they wrote for The New York Times: “When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.”

Think of adjectives frequently used for women at work — “catty”, “bitchy”.

Now, think of equivalent adjectives for men. You can’t, because there aren’t any.

So, why does this happen?

There are three reasons behind the phenomenon — patriarchy, patriarchy and patriarchy.

Gender roles established over millennia still see a man as the ‘leader’. Confident, vocal women are trying to “usurp” that position, and are both an anomaly and a threat.

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Gender conditioning, which begins at a very young age from home, teaches men to be assertive, women to be accommodative. A woman who smiles often, says “excuse me”, “please”, and “thank you”, is considered pleasant. A man doing the same would be a “sissy”.

When a man is criticised for throwing his weight around, he is “bossy”, or, at worst, a bully. These are behavioural traits, and do not in any way discredit the man’s abilities.

But when a woman does the same, she is “hysterical” and “over-sensitive” — the words immediately portraying her as someone who cannot be taken seriously and cannot be trusted with responsibilities.

A lot of men who hijack women’s conversations don’t even do it with the intention to offend — they are conditioned to the entitlement, to believe that they can say whatever the woman was saying, better.

This is obviously unfair. Women put in as much hard work in their education and at the workplace as men, and their voices getting drowned out just because of their gender hurts their careers — as well as the company’s interests.

While it will be decades — and that’s an optimistic estimate — before employees can be seen independently of their gender, there are small changes we can incorporate to deal with this problem.

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Men — when you feel the urge to cut into what a woman is saying, pause and ask yourself if it is really vital for you to speak that very second, or if it can wait till the woman is done talking. If you interrupt because you feel you might forget the point later, just jot it down.

Women — don’t be so willing to yield the floor. Your automatic response should not be to stop talking — you are not getting any marks for courtesy.

Both men and women, call it out when you see someone manterrupting.

Just one “Could you please let her finish” can go a long way in making people realise that what they did was wrong.

If basic courtesy and a sense of fair play do not make you think manterrupting is wrong, here’s more research that shows that companies where women’s voices are heard more perform better financially.

Think about it — letting women finish their sentences can mean better salaries for all of us.

Will we now put our mouths where our money is? #KhabarLive