Thought 6: Listen deeply when women speak up, to overcome your unconscious bias

Being willing to speak up in team meetings is a defining behaviour of emerging leadership – especially when you are offering ideas for improving the work of the team, as opposed to talking about problems.  In doing so you are likely to be seen as someone who can serve the team by helping them change positively to achieve their goals.   You are likely to increase your influence in the team, and gain respect from your peers.  To become an emerging leader.

We all like to think that we listen equally to everyone.  However recent research by Elizabeth J McClean et. al. have found that while “men who spoke up with ideas were seen as having higher status and were more likely to emerge as leaders, women did not receive any benefits in status or leader emergence from speaking up.”  This was regardless of whether the listener was a man or a woman.

What does this mean for team managers?  And team members?  Especially in technology and engineering contexts where women are significantly outnumbered by men?

It means that each of us needs to be aware of this unconscious bias and learn to really listen to women when they contribute in meetings.  Really listen deeply and consciously.  Only then will we be giving emerging women leaders the leadership voice they deserve.


Source: McClean, Elizabeth & Martin, Sean & Emich, Kyle & Woodruff, Todd. (2017). “The social consequences of voice: An examination of voice type and gender on status and subsequent leader emergence.” Academy of Management Journal. amj.2016.0148. 10.5465/amj.2016.0148.