How to motivate women to speak up

Cross posted from Overcoming Bias. Comments there.

***

In mixed groups, women don’t talk as much as men. This is perhaps related to women being perceived as “bitches” if they do, i.e. pushy, domineering creatures whom one would best loath and avoid. Lindy West at Jezebel comments:

…it just goes back to that hoary old double standard—when men speak up to be heard they are confident and assertive; when women do it we’re shrill and bitchy. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. And it leaves us in this chicken/egg situation—we have to somehow change our behavior (i.e. stop conceding and start talking) while simultaneously changing the perception of us (i.e. asserting that assertiveness does not equal bitchiness). But how do you assert that your assertiveness isn’t bitchiness to a culture that perceives assertiveness as bitchiness? And how do you start talking to change the perception of how you talk when that perception is actively keeping you from talking? Answer: UGH, I HAVE NO IDEA…

One problem with asserting that your assertiveness doesn’t indicate bitchiness is that it probably does. If all women know that assertiveness will be perceived as bitchiness then those who are going to be perceived as bitches anyway (due to their actual bitchiness) and those who don’t mind being seen as bitches (and therefore are more likely to be bitches), will be the ones with the lowest costs to speaking up. So mostly the bitches speak, and the stereotype is self-fulfilling.

This model makes it clearer how to proceed. If you want to credibly communicate to the world that women who speak up are not bitches, first you need for the women who speak up to not be bitches. This can happen through any combination of bitches quietening down and non-bitches speaking up. Both are costly for the people involved, so they will need altruism or encouragement from the rest of the anti-stereotype conspiracy. Counterintuitively, not all women should be encouraged to speak more. The removal of such a stereotype should also be somewhat self-fulfilling – as it is reduced, the costs of speaking up decline, and non-bitchy women do it more often.

Interestingly and sadly, this is exactly opposite to the strategy that Lindy finds self-evident:

…But I guess I will start with this pledge I just made up: I, Lindy West, a shrill bitch, do hereby pledge to talk really really loud in meetings if I have something to say, even if dudes are talking louder and they don’t like me. I refuse to be a turtle—unless it is some really loud species of brave turtle with big ideas. I will not hold back just because I’m afraid of being called a loudmouth bitch (or a “trenchmouth loud ass,” which I was called the other day and as far as I can tell is some sort of pirate insult). Also, I will use the fuck out of the internet, because they can’t drown you out on the internet. The end. Amen or whatever.

4 responses to “How to motivate women to speak up

  1. Replace ‘women’ with ‘men’ and ‘bitch’ with ‘asshole.’

  2. You could also punish people who are disproportionately hard on women for being bitches.

  3. The research is consistent and strong – groups with more women make better decisions. The female brain, we would argue, is just “better” as the brain that takes care of the young would want to be.

    What we do that sort of works is:
    – Call the Con – We point out the explicit and implicit ways women’s voices are suppressed and disrespected. Lack of awareness is probably more than half the problem.
    – Everyone Gets a Turn – The gentlest, shyest and quietest voices are needed in every group so a start is to go around and everyone gets an opportunity to speak or pass. Shy people shouldn’t be forced to speak but they must be asked and given an opportunity.

    BTW, typically the loudest voices, usually male but not always are just bullying everyone else. Always best to stand up to bullies and point out their behavior.

  4. i suspect Lindy West is a bossy hardy woman nearing on the lesbian border
    with all that cursing

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