Why Women’s Voices Are Needed in Public Affairs but Are Missing

Does watching Mika Brzezinski get constantly interrupted by Joe Scarborough every morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe make you as angry as it makes me? And, yes, I do know that Scarborough interrupts all of his guests, but Brzezinski is his coanchor and often the only woman at the political round-table discussions hosted by the show. I often find watching how she is interrupted, talked over, and disregarded so upsetting that I have to turn the show off. She is smart and has a lot to say, but she is continually not allowed to make her points. Unfortunately, as I wrote in a previous article about research on women getting interrupted in business settings, this happens everywhere. Now new research, described by Marie Tessier of the New York Times, addresses the consequences of women’s voices being underrepresented in public affairs due to more frequent negative interruptions in meetings and harsh feedback online. When women don’t feel that their opinions are valued, they become less willing to share them. Tessier notes that researchers report that women’s voices are underrepresented in many public affairs settings like school board meetings, town meetings, rural community meetings, and online news sites. The researchers found that “women take up just a quarter to a third of discussion time where policy is discussed and decisions made, except when they are in the majority.” This includes online discussions of public affairs where “women’s voices are outnumbered three to one in news comments, according to data from the University of Sydney and Stanford University.” What are the possible consequences of women’s voices being underrepresented in public affairs? Tessier suggests these outcomes:

  • Democratic institutions may not accurately reflect the will of the people.
  • Issues of particular concern to women, such as care for children, older people, and people with disabilities, may not become funding priorities.
  • In Congress, the police, or the military, where women are underrepresented, there is a greater danger of policy decisions being skewed against survivors of sexual assault, against prosecution of sexual assault offenders, or against gender pay equity.
Strategies to increase the representation of women’s voices include the following:
  • Increase the number of women on school boards and in meetings. Women are interrupted and disregarded less often when they are in the majority.
  • Increase the number of women in leadership. Women speak more when a woman is leading.
  • Build networks, teams, and alliances to get ideas heard.
  • Institute a “no interruption” rule in meetings and rules to ensure equal floor time for women.
I have written more about ways to help women get their voices heard. What has worked for you?   Image: “Men and Women at a Town Hall Meeting” By: CDC/Dawn Arlotta  ]]>

2 thoughts on “Why Women’s Voices Are Needed in Public Affairs but Are Missing”

Leave a Comment