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gender equality, gender equality in business, gender equality in the workplace, diversity at work, diversity employment, diversity and inclusion, women in leadership

Simple Tips for a Tough Talk

Speaking up together is a core strategy in our allies for equality research.  In the 40+ talks I have given on the subject, this strategy by far has the greatest immediate impact.  As I share stories and terms from our research, I look around the room to see women’s heads nodding and men learning something for the very first time.  It is powerful.

What do we mean by bad behavior?

Think of a scenario where you felt uncomfortable.  You know that pit in your stomach feeling when someone says or does something that is not okay.  It could be slight – interrupting someone or making an assumption about someone that is not true, or it could be egregious – leaving someone out because they are different or harassing someone with less power.  The term “bropropriating” categorizes this gendered male to female behavior as:

  • Interruptions
  • Taking credit for ideas
  • Over or under explaining (AKA mansplaining)

Participants often share these stories with me in our “Men as Allies” talks.  They saw something bad and did nothing about it.  They felt terrible, and were paralyzed in the moment with fear.  They were a bystander.

Our allies choose to speak up

The bystander effect is real.  The reason we do not speak up in difficult situations is because it evokes our fight or flight primal emotions.  We freeze.  We want to feel safe, and speaking up does not feel safe.  We just want it to be over.  Our allies lean in through the fear and speak up, even when it is hard.  They do it because they feel empathy, not sympathy for those with less power.  They stand up with women for equality, side by side.  We are stronger together.

Our male allies step into tough conversations.  They may say:

  • “I heard you say X. My perception was Y.  Help me understand where you were coming from?”
  • “Person X was still talking. Let’s let her finish please.”
  • “That sounds like person X’s idea. Person X, why don’t you elaborate?”
  • “That behavior is not okay. I expect you will not do that again.”

Shauna’s story

A friend of mine helped me edit my book, and after reading the Speak Up section, had a realization that her boss frequently interrupted her.  She decided to speak up about it.  She went to his office the next day and asked him if he had a few minutes to go for a walk (by the way, a great way to facilitate trust is a side by side dialogue).  She said that she valued their relationship and enjoyed working on his team.  She felt she could trust him, so felt comfortable sharing something that was difficult to say.

And, then…she dropped the bomb – “you interrupt me.” 

This is powerful because he is in a position of power (as most men are), and he could retaliate against Shauna.  Her boss, however, took about 10 seconds, slowly responded – “Why haven’t you told me this before?  You’ve got to let me know the next time I do that.”  And, Shauna did.  It took three eye piercing stares during interruptions for him to get the message.  He did not know he was doing it.  He needed to be called out.  He needed instant, direct feedback in the moment.  And, now Shauna is participating more and the team is benefiting from her ideas.  She is heard.  And, she was just promoted, six months following the tough talk.

Gender equality is a tough conversation, but it does not have to be.

That is why we have the Five Questions to Get the Gender Equality Conversation Document.  This is not easy.  This is the tough stuff leaders have to do.  Engage with your team.  Have a dialogue.  I promise you will not regret it.

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