I definitely think I was in denial for most of my life. Or maybe I was just naive. Or maybe my parents did an outstanding job at conveying equality to me and my brothers and that blinded me from reality. When I read Joanne Lipman’s That’s What She Said earlier this year, I realized how I have encountered misogyny over and over again in my career without even really realizing it.
That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women need to tell them) is enlightening and eye-opening on a couple different levels. Here are some of the things I learned:
Men interrupt women.
Even though women tend to be very vocal and communicative, when it comes to business meetings and other formal work environments, women take the short end of the stick. It’s been proven that men tend to interrupt women way more than the other way around. This leads to an imbalance in terms of expressing opinions and ultimately also in terms of making decisions. If women are excluded from the conversation, their opinions won’t impact the outcome. I have experienced first hand situations where meetings turned into a couple of guys taking over and barely letting me speak. When I would say something, they would barely acknowledge my input. On occasion, they will paraphrase what I said and sell it as their own idea which is then applauded by everyone in the room.
The motherhood penalty is real.
At my last job, I worked for an incredible women-run tech startup. Not only were 2 of the 3 founders women, they also started a software company, which is as you might know, not the most women-friendly industry. In addition, one of the founders had 2 little kids when I joined. I was in admiration of their grit and ability to run their family life, raise children and also be bosses and grow a company. I had only been there for a few months, and then the founders closed another round of fundraising. Shortly thereafter, they announced that one of them was pregnant. They explained that this was something they couldn’t mention to investors during the fundraising efforts, as it would have immediately disqualified them. Wow. The motherhood penalty is real. Although the other founder was the living proof of success with 2 kids and the role of COO of our company, they knew that motherhood was not an asset in negotiations. Most investors are men and believe that raising kids or being pregnant distracts. Although women with children are ultra-efficient and productive, the stigma is real and studies have shown that women who return to work after having children, encounter a 4% salary decrease instead of an increase to account for their family growth.
The respect gap is an issue too.
This is an interesting one. Men tend to use pejorative language and terminology when talking about women’s careers and achievements. This actually happened to me right around the time when I was reading the chapter of the book. I was sitting down for an informal meeting with a man, who asked me about my career. So I went ahead and walked him through my startup experiences and explained in detail what my responsibilities and achievements had been over the last few years since I moved to NYC and started working there. When I was done, he responded: “Interesting projects. Well done.” I instantly felt uneasy and couldn’t really put my finger on why I didn’t like the way he expressed himself about my work. Then I read it in the book. The word “project” is often used by men to refer to women’s work. It’s condescending and unfortunately deeply ingrained in society—so much that it’s not even something men do consciously.
Where do we go from here?
The book is definitely not about “men shaming”; rather it tries to identify the fundamental issue with gender equality. It all boils down to the fact that there is very little actual communication between women and men about the issues. Men are told during diversity training that they misbehave and need to change and women are told that they need to ask for more and speak up. The truth is, men and women don’t identify solutions together. Ultimately, what we need is a conversation between genders that starts with agreeing on the behaviors and social norms that lead to inequality. After that, we can start making behavior changes on both sides, so these differences can be minimized and eradicated.
Have you run into any of these situations in your own life?
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