The Subtle Forms Of Mansplaining That Women Encounter
Use these methods to take control of the discussion.
We’ve all been there, trapped in a meeting while someone tells you everything you need to know about a topic you’re an expert in, or forced to listen to someone regurgitate an idea you just expressed while he gets all the credit. For 64 percent of women, microaggressions such as mansplaining are a workplace reality, according the 2018 “Women in the Workplace” study by McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org. Yet, while men are more likely than women to interrupt and dominate conversations, mansplaining does happen to everyone regardless of gender, says Alexis Krivkovich, a managing partner for McKinsey’s Silicon Valley office and an author of the “Women in the Workplace” study. Silence and eye rolling won’t stop a mansplainer in his tracks. Sitting quietly only reinforces the misconception that you’re not qualified. Instead, use these methods to take control of the discussion.
Redirect the interruption
When someone talks over your point or reiterates your idea but doesn’t give you credit, Krivkovich suggests taking the point back and making it your own by saying, “Thank you for reinforcing what I was saying, just to conclude …” Acknowledge the contribution but move on and make the statement your own. This approach is more effective than, “I wasn’t finished with my thought,” which can sound defensive.
Call it out
When a colleague starts schooling your coworker on a topic she’s an expert in, come to her defense by saying, “You must not know that Sally is an expert in industrial design,” or simply say, “She already knows.” If a colleague is constantly being interrupted or talked over, raise awareness by saying, “I observed that Sally was interrupted five times last meeting,” to help others see the mansplainer’s behavior. Women often get penalized if they speak out too strongly or push back too hard, but if you come on strong in defense of a colleague, you could be seen as a leader, and that will benefit you and her, says Rachel Thomas, president of LeanIn.org.
Strut your stuff
"I'm aware of that" is a good line to use when a man starts explaining your job or basic concepts to you. Put a playful spin on it by saying, “Please tell me more about book publishing, given I’ve worked in the industry for the last 30 years,” Thomas says. Many mansplainers are motivated by the belief that they’re more knowledgeable about the topic than the person speaking. Turn the tables on the mainsplainer and ask a tough question specific to your area of expertise, suggests Fabiana Meléndez, a publicist at Zilker Media in Austin, Texas.
Appoint an arbitrator
Prior to meeting, agree that colleagues will not interrupt, that they will build on or respond to comments rather than regurgitating someone else’s ideas, and that everyone will have opportunity to speak and opposing viewpoints will be welcomed. Then appoint someone to call out mansplaining, interrupting and other condescending behaviors. At each meeting, assign a different person to oversee this task. “Then the guy who speaks over people has to learn how to be the arbitrator,” Krivkovich says.
It took a series of aha moments for social entrepreneur Kyle Vaughan to realize he was a mansplainer. Now he looks for clues to determine whether he’s guilty of mansplaining. “If you find yourself making a lot of statements and not asking many questions, you may be mansplaining,” Vaughan says. “Watch people's body language. Closed arms and pursed lips may mean it's time to stop that stream of consciousness.”
An audio recording of Jeremy S. Harrison arguing with his wife made him more aware of his mansplaining tendencies. “Listening to myself talk to her in a patronizing way, it really opened my eyes to how condescending I sounded when speaking to her,” says Harrison, a digital marketer and SEO specialist. “I learned that sometimes when I spoke to women I had a tendency to cut them off when there was a disagreement.” He also discovered that he lets out a long sigh right before he mansplains. “If I begin to do that, I have to catch myself and realize what I am doing,” he says.
Don’t underestimate the importance of raising awareness of mansplaining and helping colleagues to recognize the behavior, Krivkovich says. If your coworkers aren’t experiencing mansplaining, they might not notice it, even when it’s happening around them.