Want to Improve Gender Equality? Shut Up!
Several years ago I came to the late realization that actively cultivating diversity on our management team was critical. Previously, I deluded myself that my attempt at a meritocratic, gender and race neutral worldview didn’t discriminate. That’s what I aspired to, but did not change the fact my lens is that of a white, middle class male.
When I stopped to look at how I acted, not just what I believed, I learned some surprising and unsettling things about myself and unintended consequences of my actions. These observations don’t apply to all men just as not all women will relate to the research below.
Carol Dweck has amazing research on mindset that I’m going to completely bastardize and extrapolate on. Dr. Dweck observed that boys and girls at play are solving for different ends. Boys are rough and tumble, seeking dominance. Girls are relational and give space for others to be participatory. Research shows this translates to the workplace. Man-boys turn their playground behaviors into MMA style meetings. The deference given by women can be mistaken for lack of an opinion or perspective.
Our startup culture was an intellectual cage match. Don’t enter the octagon if you aren’t ready to take your opponent to the mat. These spirited debates silenced important perspectives, particularly from the amazing women on our team.
This summer I was at one of my favorite meetings of the year. It is hosted in the Alps by a leading fintech venture firm that takes diversity and inclusion seriously. Yet, when it was my turn to moderate a session, I realized we were in the octagon rather than a round table. I’ve observed many women early in their careers facing a choice: raise their voices to be heard (at the risk of being labeled bossy) or pick their moments to contribute. The answer isn’t for women to be more combative but for men to learn to shut up.
One of the reasons I think gender balanced teams outperform unbalanced teams is because it becomes immediately obvious when half the table is talking too much. Teams that listen to more voices rather than just the loudest ones are more likely to get to the right answer and react more quickly when they learn something new. To get the greatest benefit from diverse teams, we need to create the space for these other voices to speak.
An unintended benefit: the engineer who didn’t want to wade into a business conversation, the introvert and expert from outside the industry all have a seat at the table. It still takes significant effort to restrain my impulse to dive in and ferociously debate.
I’m committed to being a better listener and I’m convinced shutting up is one of the most important things men can do to promote gender equality.
Men, if you really care about being a better ally, don’t just shut up, speak up when the room is being filled with too much hot air.
Do your meetings take place at a round table or in an octagon?