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Workplace to Women: Speak Up, Don't Speak Up

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Every woman has experienced this at least once in her life: She speaks up in a classroom, at a meeting, even standing around chatting at a party, and she gets interrupted. A guy in the group (perhaps even the interrupter) starts talking, and then everyone's all ears.

Or then there's this: pushing back against the interrupters, speaking freely and then being told she's too aggressive. And complaining? That's written off as paranoia, whiny anecdotes, women simply unable to hold their own in a man's world.

Thing is? It's totally true. This double-bind for women—getting interrupted, ignored or even punished for speaking up—is supported by studies, which Sheryl Sanderg and Adam Grant wrote about in their New York Times series, "Women at Work." The end result? Women stay quiet, and the organizations they work for suffer.

First, the stats: a study by Yale psychologist Victoria L. Brescoll found that the more power male senators had, the more time they spent speaking on the floor compared to their junior colleagues. Powerful female senators, on the other hand, spoke no more or no less on average than elected reps their junior.

RELATED: I'm Tired of the Double-Bind Dilemma for Working Moms

Brescoll wanted to know why women spoke less, so she surveyed women and men in various professions to evaluate the competence of chief executives. She compared the evaluations to the amount of time the top leaders spoke and found that men who spoke up a lot received a 10 percent higher rating than their peers who spoke up less. Women CEOs who spoke a lot? They were found to be 14 percent less competent than their peers who spoke less—men AND women gave the talkers this lower rating.

Sandberg and Grant say some organizations have instituted a "no interruptions" policy during meetings. Others ask for ideas to be submitted anonymously in "innovation tournaments."

They also conclude that getting more women into leadership positions is the long-term solution to "disrupting" this pattern of male preference for speaking in meetings. After all, the first piece in the series pointed to studies that concluded, in the office, men may be more confident but women are more competent.

When did you first encounter male speaking dominance at work or in, you know, life? Share your story in comments.

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