Closing The Gap

45% of women business leaders say it's difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings


Today's remote work culture is having both a positive and negative impact on women in the workplace. While 70% of working women think the changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic will give them more flexibility to control their work schedule in the future, a recent report by Catalyst shows that this flexibility of working outside the office could also hurt women's chances of feeling seen and heard at work. 

In the recent survey of 1,100 U.S. working adults over the age of 18, Catalyst, a nonprofit that works to accelerate women into leadership, found that 45% of women business leaders say it's difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings and one in five women say they've felt ignored or overlooked by colleagues during video calls. Additionally, three in five female employees say they feel like their prospects of getting a promotion are worse in their new remote work environment.

Dr. Patti Fletcher, a workplace equity and disruption futurist who is the vice president of brand marketing at software company Workhuman, says she's not surprised by these statistics. In the past, several studies have pointed to women being talked over or ignored during in-person meetings, with some researchers coining the phrases "manterrupting," "mansplaining" and "bropropriating" to describe the act of men interrupting, explaining or taking credit for a woman's idea. Now, with remote work being the common environment for many employees, Fletcher, who has worked as a virtual employee for more than 20 years, says she knows first-hand how women are talked over and ignored even in online meetings. 

(Marko Klaric | Twenty20)

"When I was younger, I would internalize it," she tells CNBC Make It, while explaining that she used to feel symptoms of imposter syndrome or like she didn't belong when she would get talked over or mansplained in a conference call. To combat the issue, Fletcher says she advises women to not ignore the situation when it occurs, as it's easy to be ignored or silenced during a phone call or Zoom meeting when someone can't read your body language to see that you have a question or concern.

Now, when she's talked over in virtual meetings, Fletcher says she politely says, "Excuse me, I need to finish, or, "I haven't finished my thought and I can't wait to hear what you think about it."

While it's certainly appropriate for women, and other colleagues, to call out this behavior the minute it happens, Fletcher says it's more important for company leaders to do their part to ensure that a culture of talking over women and ignoring them doesn't persist. 

Catalyst CEO Lorraine Hariton agrees and says that one of the first steps to fixing this problem is for companies to "double down on their diversity and inclusion efforts" so that more women are in leadership positions.

"I believe this is an opportunity for us to really make change in a way that we haven't seen before," she says, while referring to Catalyst's report which shows that more than 50% of employees believe that the pandemic is a perfect opportunity for companies to take a stance in addressing the need for greater gender and racial equity. 

In doubling down on these efforts, Hariton says leaders need to be "role modeling inclusive communication and collaboration, calling out unconscious bias and reaching out with empathy to understand what's happening in the lives of other people."

"Companies that are planning to lean into a diverse remote and flexible work environment need to understand that they've got to do that with intentionality," Hariton says, while explaining that the same way you would prioritize an inclusive work culture when employees are in the office, is the same way leaders need to prioritize it in a remote work environment "if they really want to get the best results."

Check out: Americans spend over $5,000 a year on groceries—save hundreds at supermarkets with these cards

Don't miss: Over 80% of White employees see themselves as allies at work, but Black women and Latinas disagree

Meet Danielle Geathers, MIT's first Black woman student body president
Meet Danielle Geathers, MIT's first Black woman student body president