Why Men Don’t Get Interrupted

Abundant research shows that women really do get interrupted more and men really do talk more in the workplace. In a previous post, I summarized several studies reporting relevant research findings. In a new, more personal report in the New York Times, Thomas Page McBee, a transgender man, provides a unique opportunity to learn from his experience. He describes how the dynamics began to change dramatically for him at work. He transitioned from female to male, and his voice deepened from testosterone treatments. McBee began his transition to male at the age of thirty-one and moved to a new city and job at about the same time. He explains that his mother, a scientist and executive at General Electric, talked frequently with him and his sister as they were growing up about the challenges she faced as a professional woman. While still living in a female body as an adult, McBee notes that his high, sharp voice “made me invisible. I was frequently interrupted and talked over, especially by men, especially at work. I had to fight harder to make a point. . . . I was sometimes squeezed into silence.” Soon after he began his transition and testosterone injections, he was startled to discover that a privilege of his male body and deep voice was that he could “silence an entire room just by opening my mouth.” Specifically, McBee reports that

  • People didn’t just listen when he spoke, they leaned in.
  • Salesmen were oddly subservient.
  • When he would join a group of women engaged in lunchtime banter, the entire conversation would halt.
  • He could hold an entire meeting hostage as he worked through a half-formed idea. He began to wonder if he was “mansplaining” as he caught himself rambling. Previously, before transitioning, he “might not have had the confidence to even volunteer a thought without rehearsing it first.”
Thinking of his mother, McBee says he started to contemplate the choice he had about the kind of man he wanted to be. He began by “tallying the evidence” of whom he was interrupting (women, by a three-to-one margin), whose emails he responded to quickly (men), and whose opinions he was less likely to push back on (men). McBee reports that after asking for feedback, he made the following changes:
  • He added a round-robin process in his staff meetings to make sure everyone on his team got a chance to speak.
  • He made it a practice to highlight the accomplishments of female coworkers to his supervisor.
  • He acknowledged the invisible labor that women often contribute, such as organizing birthday celebrations and making coffee.
  • He amplified the ideas of women in meetings and made sure they got credit for their ideas.
  • He made coffee.
McBee closes his article by reflecting on the value of both his old and new gender cultures; his goal is to keep the best of both. Which of McBee’s practices are used in your organization? What else does your organization do to support women?   Photo courtesy of mconnors.]]>