Why women don’t speak up on Zoom calls – and why that’s a problem

(Charles Deluvio, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Natalie Marchant, Writer, Formative Content


  • Women are systematically seen as less authoritative, study shows.
  • Gender biases still shape the rules of social engagement.
  • Changing the environment in the room – rather than changing women’s behaviour – should be the goal.

Diversity efforts may have given women a seat at the table – or, in the context of the pandemic, a place on the Zoom call – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a voice.

With working from home now the norm for many, a growing body of research is showing that it’s not become a leveller for meetings.

Almost half (45%) of US women business leaders surveyed in September said it was difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings on platforms like Zoom, while one-in-five women felt they’d actually been ignored on such calls.

Researchers at Brigham Young University in the US found last year that the gender dynamics shutting down women remained prevalent, even in the most well-intentioned settings.

“Women are systematically seen as less authoritative,” Jessica Preece, associate professor in political science at BYU, told BYU Magazine.

“And their influence is systematically lower. And they’re speaking less. And when they’re speaking up, they’re not being listened to as much, and they are being interrupted more.”

So what’s going on?

Women ‘less influential’

Preece and her colleagues examined the female experience in a male-dominated collegiate accounting programme, in which women were typically enrolled with better grade point averages and more leadership experience than their male counterparts.

Students pass through the programme on teams, and administrators wanted to know how to best build these groups.

In teams where women were outnumbered, the researchers discovered they were routinely seen as the least competent and influential in the group.

The problem is not necessarily intentional bias or misogyny. It is instead a systemic problem with society that often sees cultural norms and gendered messages shaping the rules of engagement, explained Preece.

We have been “slowly socialized over years to discount” female expertise and perspectives, she said.

“It’s not women who are broken; it’s society that’s broken,” she added. “I’d like to see us focus on training people to be – and creating systems that are – supportive of women who speak up.”

This means the goal needs to be changing the environment in the room, actual or virtual, rather than women themselves – so that they are empowered and listened to.

“We have lots of learning and unlearning to do.”

Towards gender parity

Gender parity can affect whether or not economies and societies thrive, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020 – particularly important as countries seek to build back better after the coronavirus pandemic.

McKinsey Global Institute’s 2015 Power of Parity report estimated that advancing women’s equality could add $13 trillion to global growth by 2025.

The Forum’s report saw improvement in educational attainment, and health and survival, with the gender gap closing by 96.1% and 95.7% respectively.

Gender parity education work employment health
Health and educational attainment improved in 2020. Image: WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2020

But more work needs to be done in the area of political empowerment (24.7%) and economic participation and opportunity (58.8%).

Women have been disproportionately impacted during COVID-19, according to McKinsey Global Institute, with greater job losses, often as a result of increasing unpaid care.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles. https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1206990289602301952&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.weforum.org%2Fagenda%2F2021%2F01%2Fwomen-gender-equality-workplace-meetings%2F&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px

France has become the second G20 country to launch a Gender Gap Accelerator, signalling that developed economies are also playing an important role in spearheading this approach to closing the gender gap.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

Helping women be heard

BYU researchers say that even small changes to make sure women in a meeting, or on a call, can fully contribute or express their views can make all the difference.

Positive interjections, such as “that’s an interesting point”, can elevate and help validate women’s voices in spaces where they may otherwise be lost, they added.

The goal is to create an environment in which women can be as influential as their authentic selves, says Preece.

“If we build a world in which women’s voices are valued and listened to, they will speak up without having to be told to.”

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Brexit Preparedness: European Commission adopts final set of “no-deal” contingency measures for Erasmus+ students, social security coordination rules and the EU budget

The journey begins – 2021 is the European Year of Rail!

Three experts on why eradicating plastic pollution will help achieve gender equality

Informal meeting of heads of state or government, Sibiu, 09/05/2019

State aid: Commission opens in-depth investigation into public support for expansion of LG Chem’s electric vehicles battery plant in Poland

Rising number of young people excluded from jobs, education and training

Iran protests: Live ammunition reportedly used, says UN human rights office

In dreams and in love there are no impossibilities

Opening Remarks by H.E. Ambassador Yang Yanyi, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU at the Chinese Fashion Night

EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey: €5.6 billion out of €6 billion now allocated in support of refugees

Forget 2009, this is the real credit crisis of our time

Is there a cure for corruption in Greece?

COVID-19 vaccination campaigns and their challenges

EU Visa Policy: Commission welcomes agreement to strengthen EU visa rules

How to unleash the potential of regions like São Paulo

A comprehensive strategy for Eurozone’s long term growth gains momentum

US-EU trade negotiations: pointless tariffs against real economic growth

A Sting Exclusive: “Paris is the moment for climate justice”, Swedish MEP Linnéa Engström claims from Brussels

The ECB proposes a swift solution for SMEs’ financing

Major UN aid operation for 650,000 gets underway across Syria-Jordan border

Latest leaked TTIP document confirms EU sovereignty may be under threat

Societies must unite against ‘global crisis of antisemitic hatred’, Guterres urges

How powering food storage could end hunger

What are antibody tests and can they get the world back to work?

Education should be like everything else. An on-demand service

A new European banking space is born this year

Smart city experts should be looking to emerging markets. Here’s why

JADE Spring Meeting 2016 highlights

European research priorities for 2021-2027 agreed with member states

Latest tragedy in the Mediterranean claims over 100 lives – UN refugee agency

Parliament demands ban on neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups in the EU

Memoirs from a unique trip to China: “my new old dragon” (Part II)

We need to rethink cybersecurity for a post-pandemic world. Here’s how

COVID-19 amplifies inequality. Fight back with long-term thinking

How COVID-19 vaccine efforts could help defeat other diseases

Former Chilean President Bachelet put forward by UN chief as next High Commissioner for Human Rights

Young people are key to defusing unrest and restoring public trust

A third of young people polled by UN, report being a victim of online bullying

The reskilling revolution can transform the future of work for women

European Defence Fund: EU funds new joint research and industrial projects

Coronavirus Global Response: EU Humanitarian Air Bridge supports Venezuela

Search Engine neutrality in Europe in danger: Are 160.000 Google filtering requests good enough?

Why we need different generations in the workplace

Mexico: UN chief saddened by pipeline blast in which dozens were killed

Use space technology to build a better world for all, urges UN chief

UNICEF urges ‘transformative shift’ in family-friendly work policies to reap ‘huge’ benefits

EU cracks under the weight of its policy on the Ukraine-Russia nub

We need a global convention to end workplace sexual harassment

Climate Change : An Already Health Emergency

10 reasons to be optimistic for the future, from young change-makers

COVID-19 practices are constantly changing – this app helps emergency doctors cope

After the European Parliament elections – what happens next?

Scourge of slavery still claims 40 million victims worldwide, ‘must serve as a wakeup call’

Chernobyl nuclear disaster-affected areas spring to life, 33 years on

Why the UK government must do more to boost green revolution

UN chief praises Africa for keeping ‘hearts and borders open’ in refugee crisis

OK computer: why the machine age still needs humans

In Bali, UN chief Guterres outlines importance of international financial cooperation for sustainable development

TTIP 9th Round marked by American disappointment: Will some optimism save this trade agreement?

As Dubai switches on its first 5G, what is all the fuss about?

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s