When the presenter is changing slides, I’m trying to do a subtle tally. Double check the count, yes, that’s accurate. I’m paying attention to who’s talking to figure out how much I should hold my tongue. I’ve managed to keep my comments succinct, but one by one every white guy in the room takes his turn sharing an experience or a reflection. That’s fine, all valuable comments, but where are the other voices? At the end of the day, we hear from six out of 18 women and four out of five men. That’s 33% and 80%. The only man who didn’t speak is also the only man of color in the room.
I do these little tallies all the time. The results are always that white people and men are overrepresented regardless of the makeup of the room. I find this particularly interesting because the ratio of women to men at my agency is 2:1, so the above example where the room is 78% women is a very common occurrence. I assume that holding such a big majority makes it at least a little bit more comfortable to step up and speak in a group. But still, if you listened to a recording of our dialogue without looking at the room, it would lead you to believe the gender makeup was 50/50.
So what does it look like in other professional environments that are more dominated by men? You should do your own tally and tell me what you notice.
I’ve been trained for my whole life to believe that everything I say is a golden ray of sunshine. People listen to me even when they shouldn’t. Conversely, people don’t listen to women even when they should. A lot of women I’ve talked to have told me about countless experiences where they say something accurate and nobody listens and then moments later a man repeats it and everybody sings his praises. When you mix a lifetime of being over-valued with a lifetime of being under-valued, you get a very unbalanced situation.
Do we not realize this dynamic exists in virtually every mixed-gender discussion? Do we think because it’s ubiquitous that it must be innocuous? Or are we blind to the social conditioning that structures our interactions?