Does anyone remember the commercials for Verizon? It was basically an ad to say that Verizon has less dropped calls than its competitors and at the end of the commercial, the actor would say, “Can you hear me now? Good.” Communication is unfortunately more difficult than that simple statement. It is not as simple as saying what you mean. The way you say what you mean to say is crucial, and the way each person does this is different from the next. How we talk and listen are deeply influenced by cultural experiences. Men and women, even from the same culture, communicate differently and have different perceptions of what communication should be for each gender. Each subculture of gender has its own set of values, beliefs, verbal and non-verbal cues and behavioral expectations. For both genders, verbal and non-verbal cues are created through different styles of communication. (Gulati et al., 2017; Tannen, 2019)
There are some significant differences in the communication styles and approaches in men and women. Typically women perform well in collaborative environments where listening skills, inclusive body language, and empathy are highly valued, and men are thought to “take charge” more readily and viewed as more effective in environments where decisiveness is critical. Men are also judged to be better at monologue; women at dialogue. Men are more prone to value status and hierarchy; while women pay less attention to power. Women often process information externally while men tend to process information internally. Women are more likely to give focus on those who are speaking by orienting the head and body to face the speaker. They lean forward, smile, mirror movements of others, nod and tilt their heads; quite literally giving someone their ear. Men send more “status” signals through an array of dominant behaviors, such as side-to-side head shaking, anger, and disgust expressions. They stand tall or they sprawl, sitting with their legs spread or widely crossed, their materials spread out on a conference table, and their arms stretched out on the back of a chair. (Goman, 2019; Gulati et al., 2017)
Even with the great communication strengths that women hold, it is still difficult for women to speak up in meetings. Both men and women hold negative perceptions about women who attempt to speak up. We have seen it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a meeting, she is more likely to face negative consequences for speaking more so than men. It is almost as if she has to walk a tightrope. Either she is barely heard and spoken over, or she is found to be too aggressive. When men say the same thing, heads nod in appreciation of his good idea. Men perceive the meeting dynamics differently. They tend to restate and reinforce a good point in a meeting again and again to show agreement. On the other hand, women tend to draw distinction, not an echo agreement. This is quite often the reason women are perceived as not being on the team or pessimists. (Gulati et al., 2017; Sandberg & Grant, 2015)
However, speaking up in a meeting does not hold the same negative perceptions for men. Gender stereotypes exist. People expect men to be assertive and ambitious. Men who speak up and speak often, and command the attention of subordinates, are considered to be confident experts in what they are saying. In one study, professional men and women were asked to evaluate the competence of chief executives who voiced their opinions more or less frequently. Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, they were punished with 14 percent lower rating by both men and women. Studies like this show that women are not paranoid when it comes to being judged for talking too much in a meeting. They are often right. (Grant, 2021; Sandberg & Grant, 2015)
The gender dynamics in meetings at the workplace can be overcome but only with education and training. A big trend in the workplace today is to educate employees on diversity and inclusion. We need to teach our employees to recognize that when they hear a woman being called too bossy or too assertive, to ask for specific examples of what that woman did, and then ask if the accuser would have the same response to a man who did the same thing. Women need to be given credit. As we have read, women are not often given the credit they deserve. It is easily attributed to men who added onto the original idea and restated it, again and again. Make sure you train your employees to give women the credit they deserve and look for ways to acknowledge their contributions. As a meeting leader, make sure you emphasize that you expect full participation in the meeting. It is important to make sure that everyone speaks up and has a voice. When anyone interrupts another, stop them, ask them to hold their thoughts, and let the person who is speaking finish. (7 Tips for Men Who Want to Support Equality, n.d.)
Business meetings provide both genders an equal opportunity to showcase their competence and leadership abilities. Mixed-gender meetings often pose significant problems where men interrupt women and challenge them. However, with proper education and training, managers and leaders can make the meeting environment more successful for all.
7 Tips for Men Who Want to Support Equality. (n.d.). Lean In. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from https://leanin.org/tips/mvp#!
Goman, C. (2019, October 17). Gender Differences in Workplace Communication. Commpro.Biz Global, LLC. https://www.commpro.biz/gender-differences-in-workplace-communication/
Grant, A. (2021, February 18). Who won’t shut up in meetings? Men say it’s women. It’s not. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/02/18/men-interrupt-women-tokyo-olympics/
Gulati, R., Mayo, A. J., & Nohria, N. (2017). Management: An Integrated Approach (2nd ed.). Cengage Learning.
Sandberg, S., & Grant, A. (2015, January 12). Opinion | Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on Why Women Stay Quiet at Work. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/opinion/sunday/speaking-while-female.html
Tannen, D. (2019, October 15). The Power of Talk: Who Gets Heard and Why. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/1995/09/the-power-of-talk-who-gets-heard-and-why