Unconscious Bias and its Impact on "Manterrupting"
Last month, Claire Zillman wrote an article for Forbe’s titled “Ruth Bader Ginsburg Used This Simple Trick to Cut Down on ‘Manterrupting.’”
Zillman cites a new study of oral arguments from researchers at Northwestern University which “found that as more women join the Supreme Court—there are three now, the most ever—‘the reaction of the male justices and the male [lawyers] has been to increase their interruptions of the female justices.’”
The study’s authors - Tonja Jacobi, a professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and Dylan Schweers, a J.D. candidate at the school – say that interruptions are often regarded as an assertion of power through verbal dominance. In that context, it’s striking to see that dynamic in the nation’s highest court. Similar recent examples of even some of the nation’s most powerful and influential women have included Hillary Clinton being repeatedly interrupted by Matt Lauer during a debate with Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren on the floor of the Senate, when she was cut off by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Of course this trend has been observed by women everywhere, not just in the political sphere. So much so that the Daily Wire’s James Barrett reported that BETC Sao Paulo recently created an app called “Women Interrupted” which keeps track of how many times women are manterrupted.
Francesca Gino writes for Harvard Business Review that differences between the treatment of women and men are common, according to research. Importantly, she also notes that both men and women are guilty of treating women based on stereotypical perceptions and discriminating against them. For example, she writes: “studies have found that assertive women are judged more negatively than assertive men, and that when arguments or ideas are put forward by leaders, they are more likely to be viewed more negatively if the leader is a woman rather than a man.”
While there may be those that are intentionally and consciously treating women differently than men, more often than not, manterrupting is the result of a phenomenon we are very familiar with. “Such differences in the treatment of men and women are often rooted in unconscious biases that all of us fall prey to,” says Gino. “Unconscious bias is rooted in our perceptions of others, which can harden into stereotypes and prejudice over time. Bias becomes the lens through which we process information and make decisions.”
The experiences of Justice Ginsburg, Secretary Clinton and Senator Warren with manterrupting demonstrate how widespread the situation is. As with any form of unconscious bias, the first step toward remedying the practice is to recognize when it’s happening and avoid such behaviors.
Who’s doing the manterrupting in your organization? Most importantly, how will you get them to stop? Be inclusive!