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VOL. 39 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 13, 2015

Hard to ‘mansplain’ workplace gender issues

Midstate professionals weigh double standards, disdainful terms

By Heidi Hall

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The definitions

Mansplaining – When a man condescendingly lectures a woman on the basics of a topic about which he knows very little, under the mistaken assumption that she knows even less

Manterrupting – Unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man

Bropropriating – When a man takes credit for a woman’s idea

“Jane felt like screaming at Dick after he manterrupted her in the staff meeting, bropropriated her idea and then spent the afternoon mansplaining it back to her.’’

That’s an actual sentence – if people are willing to use gender-specific language that’s gaining popularity to describe unwanted workplace behavior.

It’s getting a boost from the mother of the “Lean In” culture, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, who doesn’t use those words but draws attention to the actions that spawned them.

Sandberg and Adam Grant, a management and psychology professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, wrote a series of four New York Times essays that describe behaviors that keep women from achieving all they can in the workplace.

The second essay was about men dominating conversations or interrupting women – “manterrupting,” as some call it – and cited a Yale University study that showed women who spoke up more often received 14 percent lower ratings for competence from their male and female peers, whereas men who did the same got 10 percent higher ratings.

While it’s tough to quantify some other behaviors the new lexicon describes, differences in treatment are apparent to researchers. There’s a well-documented wage gap between genders, although experts argue how large it is and why it persists.

A series of three studies showed that while women are expected to be more altruistic in the workplace, they not rewarded for it, as men are. Other research revealed women at a call center were 9 percent more productive than their male counterparts but still underrepresented in upper management.

The Ledger asked female professionals in Middle Tennessee whether they’ve experienced gender discrimination and what they thought of using the words “mansplaining,” “manterruption” and “bropropriating” to describe it. Here’s what they had to say:

Glenda Baskin Glover

Tennessee State University president


“My input was at times questioned because I was minority and female. Even in interviews to serve on corporate boards of directors, it was not only implied, but directly asked if my family responsibilities as a wife and mother would allow me the time involved for board service.

“Men don’t have to answer those questions. When I challenged my male counterparts in areas where I have technical expertise, my input was not always viewed as meaningful, and the competency of my responses was scrutinized.

“These words are not needed in the workplace lexicon as they reflect more of the personalities of some men who hold a condescending view of women in general. To include these words in the workplace lexicon implies an acceptance of this behavior rather than a commitment to eradicate such manners and conduct.’’

Tamara Saviano

Founder of Tamara Saviano Media


“I don’t like the words, quite frankly. In my view, it gives too much power to the behavior to have a name for it. But I think women who are being interrupted – and this is easier for me to say since I’m self-employed – should say, “Excuse me, I wasn’t finished. Let me finish my thought.” I’ve seen it done, and it works brilliantly.

“I came to Nashville from a very empowered situation in Milwaukee. I worked for men who were feminists, and they had a lot of women in power and listened to them.

“When I began to work in Nashville … I couldn’t really define it, but I felt like I was being treated like a 12-year-old girl, being protected and demeaned at the same time. I know they liked me, and they wanted to protect me, but I didn’t need it. Everybody I’m with now is a pro.’’

Caitlin Moon

Communications consultant and attorney


“In my practice, I have definitely experienced gender bias in clear ways. Being called “honey” and “sweetie” in court by male attorneys is completely inappropriate.

“I think that it is very important to identify the behaviors that these words describe, because they show cultural biases that hurt us all as women. I don’t think naming it helps if you don’t do anything beyond that. The phrase “admiring the problem” comes to mind. I also think that throwing around words that can sound accusatory can be more alienating.

“Our biggest cultural problem that leads to gender workplace bias is that we tend to elevate confidence over competence.’’

Mia Vickers

Governor’s Highway Safety Office deputy director


“I think a lot of times – and it may not be unintentional – men have a point in their mind they want to address, so they ignore that you’re in the middle of making your point. Then I need to bring the conversation back my way and say, ‘Thanks, but let me get back to what I was trying to say.’ ”

“I’m OK with the language, but I also feel like everybody engages in these behaviors, regardless of gender.

“If women don’t assert themselves, men will take advantage of that. We have to know our stuff doubly well.

“If I come in and know my stuff, I’m going to speak up and assert myself.

“Know your worth, and carry yourself accordingly. If you put your thoughts and ideas in writing, in emails, and send them out to the team, then they’ll know what your ideas are.’’

Debra Maggart

Senior vice president at CivicPoint and former chair of the Tennessee House Republican Caucus


“Until you sent me an article about this, I never thought it.

“Here’s been my experience: I worked for my dad for a long time in the construction business.

“My father never interrupted me or talked down to me. I was vice president of his company. (CivicPoint Managing Principal) Tom Lee never interrupts me. I interrupt him. He never talks down to me, ever.

“Then I thought about my time in the legislature. Those guys didn’t interrupt me or talk down to me – they elected me to be their caucus chair. If they tried to interrupt, I had a gavel.’’

Kate O’Neill

Founder and CEO of [meta]marketer


“My first reaction to the language was amusement. I first heard it on Twitter, where it seems appropriate because snark is the main form of communication in my world on Twitter.

“In that context, it’s a salient description of real phenomenon. It starts to lose appropriateness in the workplace, and I don’t see it fostering a productive atmosphere when we use sexist and pointed terminology.

“My work now puts me in the path of a lot of influential and powerful men, situations where I have to channel a greater gravitas than ever. I’m processing how to hold my own and not be interrupted. … I don’t want to contrive some bolder version of myself that works in a male context, I want to be who I am, but there are versions of that that can work.’’

Christy Crider

Baker Donelson attorney and head of the firm’s Women’s Initiative


“We as women have to own our obligation to speak up with our good ideas and not wait on an invitation and a captive audience to do so.

“That gets some of us out of our comfort zone.

“Correspondingly, men should recognize that women have great ideas and, for the advancement of the common mission, make sure they are providing opportunities for the ideas to reach the group.

“… I don’t find the terms helpful because they are divisive. My best successes have been those I accomplished with a team.

“But, if those terms bring increased awareness of the need for women to speak up and for men to listen, then some good comes from this discussion.’’

Suzanne Reed

Founder and CEO of United for a Purpose


“I do not believe that these are useful for the workplace, because it perpetuates the stigma of males and females working together.

“It has become very popular and important to talk about women and their issues in the workplace, which are real and founded with statistics and studies.

“I do, however, believe that men have encountered some of the same challenges when trying to become more engaged in their family life.

“I have seen women who are guilty of these behaviors.

“Giving these behaviors names seems to make it more credible and acceptable versus calling it an integrity or character flaw.’’

Contact Heidi Hall at hallreporting@gmail.com or on Twitter @HeidiHallTN.

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