"I'm gonna let you finish" -- Kanye West
Kanye is a real icon for our times; fashion, music and mansplaining. Or manterrupting. Whatever the neologism may be, Kanye telling Taylor Swift at the 2009 Video Music Awards to just hang tight while he told the world she was undeserving of her win illustrates nicely a phenomenon in life today. The way women and men communicate in the workplace is different and the way their communication is perceived is different. (I make no judgement on whether Taylor or Beyonce should have won the award, by the way.)
There is some tidy research that demonstrates that communication differs depending on gender. In several professions, men are more likely to interrupt women, speak more often and for longer and demonstrate a kind of linguistic assertiveness.
Think of this as a man saying: "We should buy this start-up". Whereas a woman might say: "Steve, I'm sorry to interrupt but what does everyone think about, maybe, buying that start-up? I mean, I think it would be a really great opportunity and perhaps be able to broaden our...". I use the ellipsis because Steve has already interrupted while Laura was apologising and explaining her decision making.
Women are brought up to be polite and nice. A woman who asserts an opinion in a more 'masculine' way may be called names including bossy or bolshy, have her ideas scrutinised or just go for the classic: "She's a real bitch!"
We are taught from a young age not to upset the boat or speak out of turn, which is different from a boy who is taught to be a go-getter and a leader. In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg talks about how women may need to rephrase their suggestions in the workplace or ask for a pay rise. She talks of how a woman needs to demonstrate some consideration for the community at large as the reason she deserves more money because women are for the greater good.
Covert or everyday sexism is common in the workplace. Without realising it, both genders can very easily fall into the roles that our society has determined for us. The men being aggressive go getters and the women being compliant and polite. Deviation of either gender from that pre-determined role is a recipe for lack of respect and insults.
Why should we even care? Even if a women has to say sorry several times in a sentence and be super nice, what does it matter if she gets what she needs in the end? Well, for starters, that is a waste of time. By the time Laura has explained her reason, more ideas could have been floated. In my line of work, by the time I have apologised and politely asked someone if they wouldn't mind accidentally putting a hole in the aorta, something very bad could have happened!
The other reason is that this gender differential and its subtle everyday sexism is another factor that may keep women from workplaces, particularly those dominated by men. Why would you bother putting your ideas forward if only to be called a bitch?
It's time we teach our kids equality. Boys may need to learn to use graded assertiveness and listen to everyone's views. Our girls need to know that it is okay to say what they need without apologising and with confidence. Then, without the day-to-day rubbish of gender-appropriate communication, we can actually have a conversation.
Now, Kanye, you may speak.