What Women Can Do If They’re Interrupted at Work

May 15, 2017, 7:59 PM UTC
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The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How can women respond to gender stereotyping at work?” is written by Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity and inclusion at Atlassian.

For many women, gender stereotyping is one of the largest barriers to advancing in the workplace. I’m sure many women can relate to being called “bossy” for speaking up, or too “emotional” for being passionate. While these stereotypes negatively impact women generally, this tends to be even more true for women with multiple minority identities like me.

One of the most common responses I see when people are faced with stereotype-driven bias is to not respond at all, or to question whether what they have experienced was really driven by bias. But each time we stay silent, or question whether our experience is real, we lose an opportunity to advocate for ourselves and to improve the experience of those around us.

That’s why it’s incredibly important to be aware of these biases, and proactively address them. Here are a few common situations where gender bias against women frequently materializes, and how to combat it:

The salary negotiation

Let’s say you deserve a raise, or maybe you’ve found you’re underpaid compared to your peers and simply want equitable compensation. That sounds like a fair conversation to have, right? Not so fast. These conversations are often stacked against women from the start. In fact, research shows women who advocate for themselves—including negotiating their salaries—are often seen as less likable, and more likely to experience negative social consequences for self-advocacy.

To remedy this, when starting the conversation, set the stage by naming the biases that might affect the discussion. While it may feel uncomfortable, this can help offset a stereotype-driven bias before it happens and reset how the decision maker enters the negotiation. Then bring in the data: Present your accomplishments and well-researched data about compensation for comparable contributions.

The annual performance review

Your annual review is here, and you want objective, actionable feedback. But research suggests you’re more likely to get critical feedback not just about your skills, but about your personality. That feedback is also more likely to be critical rather than constructive.

In addition to setting the stage for the conversation like you would in a salary negotiation, don’t wait to see what feedback you’ll receive. Be proactive and be direct about the feedback you want. Try something like: “I find I improve most when I have specific examples of good performance or areas for improvement, with suggestions for further growth or improvement. I’d also like to focus on what skills I have, and which I still need to develop.”

By articulating what you want up front, the onus is now on the other person to align their feedback with your request. Plus, this technique works as well for your weekly one-on-one meeting as it does for your annual review.

The big group meeting

Have you ever been in a big meeting where it’s hard to get a word in edgewise, or where you’re cut off before you get the whole idea out? Studies show people interrupt women more than they do men, and men are nearly three times as likely to interrupt women than other men.

If you’re interrupted, continue speaking and don’t cede to the interrupter. It can be helpful to use someone’s first name when asked for space to speak: “James, I’d love to quickly finish this point.” You can also do this for others if you see a colleague being interrupted. “Sarah, I’d actually like to hear the rest of Hannah’s thoughts before we shift gears.”

While we have made huge progress advancing the role of women in the workplace in recent years, gender stereotypes (and the biases they cause) still exist and play out in subtle (and not so subtle) ways. Instead of wishing them away, we can be proactive and prevent many of them, or subtly interrupt them in the moment. This way, we can create true change for ourselves and future generations of women.

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