Women in the Workplace

In the class of 16 people, 9 were women 8 were men. Throughout the day 46 questions were asked by the men. 6 by the women.

This isn’t some grand social experiment, this is what I observed as a member of that class on my first day on my internship. I literally started keeping track because it was very clear that gender ratios had been kept in mind (awesome) for this group of undergraduates and MBAs however the men were still dominating the conversation. In fact, of the 6 questions asked by women that day, 3 were to another female presenter and 2 were to our internship manager whom we’d met already several times.

What is it about our society that pushes men to be more vocal and women to be more quiet – even in a highly selected group of high performers who represented the top 1% of almost 2,000 applicants?

As I’ve worked here for the past few weeks I’ve kept that question in the back of my mind and shared my observations with a few in the class as well. What is interesting to see is how this shakes out the higher up you look – and this applies to most any firm.

The higher up you go the more you find the women who have conformed to the male-role of asking questions. On one team I had a junior female team mate who at first wasn’t asserting herself into the conversation to ask questions until she gained a familiarity and had built a relationship with the person speaking, unless the person she was talking to was another woman.

Conversely on a different project I have a senior female member who has no qualms about speaking her mind and jumping in to ask the same questions and generally exuding the same behavior that I’d expect from men.

Today we met one of the few female partners in the firm and she is one of the first examples of where I’ve seen someone who balances the two different styles.

I don’t have a magic answer for this observation but as a white male I have a responsibility to ensure that women (and other minorities) are provided with an environment where their talents can come through and not where they have to force themselves into a box. I am by no means perfect at this but I wouldn’t have even thought about this question without several rounds of unconscious bias training and in particular this video from my friend Marie-Anne. Give it a watch.