Are Women Interrupted More Often?

By  0 Comments

You are a woman. You are in a meeting at work, evenly surrounded by women and men, when your boss asks for your opinion on the sales figures just reported.

You’ve been in this situation many times, but today might be different. Today could be the first day that you’re not interrupted by your male colleagues when you speak. And then it happened! You talked and were not interrupted! No one noticed this victory but you, but it certainly feels like a huge win for you.

It’s no secret that women are more likely to get interrupted than men. An empirical study by Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers, Northwestern University Pritzger School of Law, demonstrated that United States Supreme Court female justices were interrupted three times more often than the male justices.

Is this a cultural thing or a power play? Could it be a female subconscious preference to let “the masculine” shine through, deferring to our “stronger” counterpart? Or is it that men may push faster and stronger to progress in their careers, and demand recognition more than women, so they drown out women’s voices in the workplace?

It’s been well documented that men tend to speak up more often and more loudly than women. In one study, CEOs were asked what characteristic they looked for in the person who would replace them when they stepped down. They said “hungry for power.” One of those CEOs subsequently had a meeting with 150 of the top women at his company and asked who in the room was hungry for power. Not one woman raised her hand to agree she was power hungry.

Language and communication play strategic roles in our workplaces. If you know and understand the subtleties and differences among men and women, you may find an easier road to success.
If you find yourself or other women being interrupted at work on a recurring basis, there are certain steps to alleviate the problem. It’s not easy to deal with, but it’s worth it if it helps you find strength, power and success.

You could always just say, “Hey, stop interrupting me!” But that could cause discomfort all around. A more appropriate response may be to ask if you could complete your thought, presentation, answer, etc., before anyone speaks. Be sure to let them know you will ask for their responses after you are finished. Ask for their understanding of this request too, so if they do interrupt you, you can refer to your original request to “finish your thoughts.”

Getting angry probably won’t get you too far either. Remember that some men don’t necessarily notice they are interrupting you because they don’t get interrupted that much. Try approaching the main culprit outside of the meeting and away from others. State objectively and calmly what is happening and ask what can be done to prevent it. That way, he can play a part in solving the problem, a more collaborative action.

Of course, if it doesn’t bother you that much to be interrupted, don’t concern yourself with the issue. That’s your call and one that many women make because for them it’s easier not to say anything. But that doesn’t help alleviate the problem, especially when it becomes important to you one day.

Sometimes you can prepare others in the meeting by saying something like, “I’m ready to present my findings. Are you prepared to listen now or should I wait until I have your full attention?”
Always be careful not to hamper anyone’s voice by embarrassing the interrupter. You tread on dangerous territory when you put the brakes on someone who may have good ideas but is too afraid to speak up, man or woman. That is counterproductive indeed.

In some cultures around the world, men will not show the same levels of respect to women, so it’s important to know this. In some Asian countries, for example, men will not listen to or look women in the eye when they speak and will only address men. Women in these situations need to be bolder and state their intention to speak, even asking for their male counterpart’s permission and attention. But remember, some cultures just don’t talk as much as Americans do!

It’s not just about talking in a collaborative way. It’s about listening, too. If you are talking, you are not listening. Plus, if you get upset about another colleague interrupting you, be hyper-aware of doing the same thing yourself. Don’t be one of those people who drone on and take over the meeting. Communication is a two-way street.

If men and women learn to communicate effectively at work, they can extend that knowledge to the home environment. It’s a crucial skill we all need to learn and apply. ■

Sources:,, and the experience of the author.