According to a January 2021 World Economic Forum article, efforts at increasing workplace diversity have succeeded in giving many women a seat at the proverbial “table.”
But apparently in the context of Zoom meetings which have become more prevalent during the Covid-19 pandemic, their voices still aren’t being heard.
Women Not Speaking Up in Zoom Meetings
Author Natalie Marchant cites recent studies and surveys which suggest that –
- Approximately 45% of women business leaders find it “difficult” to speak up during virtual meetings
- About 20% are ignored altogether
That said, it’s a wonder the numbers aren’t higher.
Because the very nature of virtual meetings makes communication inefficient and tedious at best.
Think about it.
In general, virtual meetings are characterized by poor connections, abundant background noise, pesky delays in voice transmission, and multiple people speaking at the same time.
It’s a wonder anything gets done.
But what Marchant doesn’t know or won’t admit, is that when the men and women running meetings are taken out of the equation, it’s equally difficult for both genders to speak up, and chances are men are ignored just as often as their female counterparts.
Are Women’s Voices Really Being Stifled?
Marchant also claims that gender dynamics are largely to blame for this phenomena, even in well-intentioned settings.
She says that –
- Gender biases continue to shape the rules of social engagement
- The focus should be on changing the environment in business situations – not changing women’s behavior
And she backs up her assertions with the following –
Upon closer examination however, one wonders a few things.
First, are women just seen as less authoritative, or are they actually less authoritative.
If it’s the latter, feminists may want to consider focusing their energies on making women more assertive.
And second, how are these claims actually quantified?
Does BYU post observers and data collectors in virtual meetings across the country, or do they rely solely on anecdotal evidence from women who feel they’ve been ignored and marginalized in these settings?
Here are a few novel ideas –
- Ask men about their experiences in virtual meetings too
- Stop treating women like children incapable of speaking up in professional situations
What’s Really Going On?
Jessica Preece, the aforementioned associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University, based her findings (at least in part) on an examination of –
“The female experience in a male-dominated collegiate accounting program, in which women were typically enrolled with better grade point averages and more leadership experience than their male counterparts.”
Accounting students in this unspecified program are apparently grouped into teams, and to their credit, administrators work tirelessly to group them together in the most equitable way possible.
Bravo faceless administrators.
But Preece’s claims aren’t particularly relevant to the assertions made by the article’s author for the following reasons –
- College accounting programs and professional workplaces are two different things
- She makes no mention of how this relates to virtual meetings
- She doesn’t balance her findings with results from female students enrolled in female-dominated programs, or male students enrolled in female-dominated ones
- She entirely ignores the experiences and perspectives of men in those same meetings
Nonetheless, Preece states that in teams where women are outnumbered by men, researchers found that they were typically seen as the least influential and competent members of the group.
She does point out that this probably isn’t the result of nefarious motives, bias, or outright misogyny, but instead a systematic problem with our society, in which cultural norms and “gendered messages” dictate the “rules of engagement.”
Forgive me for asking, but what exactly are “gendered messages” and “rules of engagement”?
Sadly, nebulous and undefinable terms like these are often used to make claims for which no supporting evidence exists.
Preece wraps up her argument with the following quotes –
- We have been “slowly socialized over years to discount” female expertise and perspectives
- It’s not women who are broken; it’s society that’s broken
- I’d like to see us focus on training people to be – and creating systems that are – supportive of women who speak up
- We have lots of learning and unlearning to do
You may have noticed that despite the fact that she’s a woman, Preece repeatedly uses the pronoun “we.”
It’s probably out of politeness, but it’s evident that the term could be substituted with “men.”
On the other hand, perhaps her use of “we” is an overt or subconscious admission that if deeply entrenched gender biases do actually exist, women are just as guilty of discounting the expertise and perspectives of women as men are, and that they too have lots of learning and unlearning to do.
If that’s the case, and Preece would admit it, it’d throw a great big monkey wrench into the central tenets of the so-called equality movement and Patriarchy theory itself.
The Never-Ending Quest for “Equality”
In closing, Marchant’s piece references a McKinsey Global Institute Power and Parity report from 2015 which claims that advancing women’s equality in the world could add $13 trillion to the global economy by 2025.
Rest assured Natalie, if that were the case, businesses would be pursuing “equality” with a vengeance.
Yet in reference to a report from the very same World Economic Forum for which she writes, Marchant claims that in a number of key measures, the purported “gender gap” is already nearly closed.
To the tune of –
- 97% for the Health and Survival subindex
- 96% for the Educational Attainment subindex
- 58% for the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex
In other words, according to the WEF’s own data, the plight of downtrodden women the world over has improved exponentially in recent years.
And more interestingly, things have gotten better despite the fact that nearly half of all American business women feel like they can’t get a word in edgewise during virtual meetings.
Imagine the ramifications for equality and the global economy, if women refused to allow their voices to be silenced, and took the initiative to speak more and be more assertive in meetings.
And given that men generally respect and encourage that kind of courage from everyone in meetings, that assertiveness would certainly be welcomed by everyone.
But sadly, even when their own data shows that women are better off than they’ve ever been, the doom and gloomers at the WEF just can’t acknowledge a good thing when the see one, as evidenced by the following tweet –
Unfortunately, they’re partially correct.
Unless the exploration of issues like this stops ignoring the perspectives and insights of male participants at these meetings, inequalities that impact everyone will most certainly remain.