“When you increase the number of female executive members, if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying.”
This now-infamous line, uttered by Mr. Yoshiro Mori, leader of the Tokyo Olympics organising committee, sparked plenty of backlash in Japan and around the world after a virtual meeting on February 3, 2021. He resigned from the committee over the remarks only after he was pressured to do so.
So, do women really not know when to stop talking? When asked at a news conference if he thought women talked too much, Mori responded, “I don’t listen to women that much lately, so I don’t know.”
Bursting the bubble
Rather than ask an octogenarian misogynist about women’s speech behaviors, let’s look at research instead. According to organisational psychologist Adam Grant, the pattern is clear: it’s usually the men – especially powerful ones – who won’t shut up.
In the book, “The Silent Sex: Gender, Deliberation, and Institutions”, political scientists find that when groups of five make democratic decisions, if only one member is a woman, she speaks 40% less than each man. Only when there’s four women do they each have equal air time.
Why is this so? Because gender stereotypes dictate that if a man who talks too much, he’s just confident, while a woman who does so is too aggressive or controlling. Women face the harsh reality that it’s better to stay silent and be thought polite than speak up and jeopardise their careers. Perhaps this reality is best encapsulated by Mori, who states that the Tokyo committee has “about 7 women at the organising committee, but everyone understands their place.”
The cult of “manterrupting”
Coined by journalist Jessica Bennett, the idea of “manterrupting” is when men interrupt women who’re talking. While widespread, what counts an “interruption” is a matter of interpretation.
A recent study, conducted by Stanford linguist Katherine Hilton, had 5,000 Americans listen to men and women interrupt, with identical scripts. It found that male listeners were more likely to view women who interrupted another speaker as ruder, less friendly, and less intelligent than the men who interjected – despite using the exact same words. The women listeners, however, viewed both male and female interrupters the same way. Clearly, there’s a gender gap in what counts as an interruption.
The performance index
In a study of over 100,000 leaders, published in American Psychological Association’s journal PsycNet, men were rated as more confident in their own leadership skills, but women were rated as more competent leaders by others. Women also outscored men on 17 of 19 key leadership capabilities when evaluated by their bosses, according to Harvard Business Review. We don’t have to look far to find evidence with our own eyes – in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, Covid mortality rates were lower in countries with female leaders, with few exceptions.
The reality is that women perform just as well as men when they’re both paid to solve problems, according to a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. However, when they’re competing against men, women become reluctant to compete. It’s not because they don’t trust their abilities – it’s to do with gender inequity and the male ego.
The core idea of a patriarchal culture is that masculinity is hard to win, but easy to lose. A man’s ego is related to his superiority and strength, and an assertive woman can be a threat to this fragile ego. So it’s not like women perform worse because men are superior, but because women have to walk a tightrope – they need to disagree without seeming disagreeable, raise their voices without shouting, for fear of shattering that ego.
According to psychiatrist Vijay Nagaswami, “Any ego that derives itself from the perceived superiority of one gender over the other is bound to be incomplete and fragile.”
The myth busted
To sum it up, the idea of women talking more at meetings is a total myth. If men perceive that to be the truth, then they truly need to be better listeners before they cast the first stone.