Can you hear me?
Seriously, this old ad joke is relevant in the study of behavior.
There’s a popular understanding that women are ignored by men in meetings, especially in a corporate setting.
As a semi-retired manager, and having run a firm that had more than the average number of women, it’s true. In meetings, men DO ignore women. In those meetings, I took extra care to listen for their contribution, and if necessary, stop others from talking over those women so that their words could be heard.
Why does this happen? All sorts of new-age reasons have been given, including machismo, sexism, aggression, and even our sex-hungry culture. But there may be another reason.
I’ve also been in meetings where I am the only male. Yes, me all alone. And not necessarily the leader of the meeting. And this is where it gets weird. Because I’m not a shy guy. I’m not afraid to make a point if I have one. Heck, sometimes I make a point even if I don’t have one.
When I’m the only guy, and I start saying something, it’s like I don’t exist! Another woman might start talking, and all the women immediately turn towards her. When I started talking, they don’t quite hear me at first. I found that I have to make quite a ruckus to get noticed.
What could be going on?
Rather than getting all conspiracy theory on myself, I think the simplest solution is the best. Basically, as men and women, our brains are tuned to listen to those of our own gender. Men lean towards the low end of the vocal spectrum, women are on the high end.
So, I conclude, it’s not sexism, it’s not even trying to keep people from climbing into the C-suite. It’s basic biology. It’s a million years of survival keeping our brains tuned to the noises that make the most sense. Women listen to women, and men listen to men.
So the next time your main squeeze isn’t listening to you, don’t fret. It’s not being done intentionally. That’s biology! Solution?