How to Diversify Your Team – Tip#5 Let Them Talk

by | Oct 10, 2021 | All, Women in Leadership | 0 comments

Today, I would like to address the problem of speaking up in companies. If at first sight, this problem might seem secondary, this unequal relationship to speech has many consequences. This question is indeed closely linked to that of work recognition.

For example, when male employees express themselves more in meetings, or promote their work to their hierarchy more than their female counterparts, they appear more involved, and will be more easily considered for promotion when the time comes.

If at the beginning of this article, I use the very generic term “men”, it is to lighten the text and avoid the very heavy expression “a not negligible part of men, in any case more important than the part of women”. There are obviously great contrasts within the male (and female) population, if only between introverts and extroverts. Women are therefore far from being the only ones who would benefit from a change in mindset.

Inequality in the relationship to speech is at the root of many other inequalities, which is why it is so important to tackle it. In addition, companies benefit by promoting (and avoiding the loss of) very good employees who are not sufficiently recognized. They will also benefit more from their contributions.

Now that I have made this observation, one question remains. What can be done, concretely, to solve this problem?

As stated earlier, women generally speak up less in meetings than men. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that they will only express an opinion if they consider themselves very competent on the subject. The second reason is related to what is called “manterrupting”.

For those who are not familiar with this term, here is the definition I gave in TIP#3: “The regular cutting off of women’s voices in meetings not only denies their competence, but also appropriates their ideas. A word has even been coined to define this phenomenon, which is much more common than it seems: manterrupting.
So, being accustomed to having their words cut off, women are more hesitant to speak up.

The good news is that it is quite simple to improve this situation. Just keep your eyes open during the meeting and go around the table regularly, asking those who have not yet spoken to give their opinions. This way you will get a real diversity of opinions by not only listening to those who are more expansive.

When someone expresses an original idea or even one that goes against the usual status quo, don’t fall into the “it will never work” trap. Innovation relies on diversity of ideas and therefore requires being open to unconventional ideas.

As for cutting off speech, even though this is more often the result of an unconscious act than a bad intention, it must be treated with my famous “zero tolerance”. Once, a very enthusiastic man had a tendency to systematically cut off his female colleagues. Why women? Certainly out of impatience, because they spoke with a small, timid voice that was easy to interrupt. After asking him several times not to do this, I finally played the provocation card: “I know that you think, as a man, that your word is more important than that of the women, but I want to listen to them. Of course I didn’t mean it, but it had the merit of opening her eyes to her inappropriate behavior, which never happened again.

Another equally effective option is to ask everyone to give their opinion by email, or in person (during a one-on-one meeting) for those who have difficulty expressing concepts in writing. This allows for input from employees who are uncomfortable in public, and who may not speak up in a meeting.

Don’t miss out on speech and diversity of thought.

Voice is a critical issue in the fight for women’s issues. Companies would benefit from listening more to their employees. Recognizing everyone’s work for what it is worth (and not for the busy part of the conversation) is also about being more fair. After all, if there’s one thing we’re learning in the age of social networks, it’s that it’s not always the people who take up the most space in the public arena who deserve to be heard.

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Magali Anderson

Magali Anderson

Chief Sustainability Officer at LafargeHolcim

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