Since teleworking spread at the beginning of the pandemic, more and more research has analyzed the social changes that this type of activity has brought to the world of work: from the difficulties to reconcile to its emotional effects on employees. There is also a gender approach: how has it affected the situation of women with their work environment? The World Economic Forum notes in a recently published report that almost half of American business leaders find it more difficult to speak during virtual meetings on platforms like Zoom, while one in five felt that they are directly ignored in those calls.
The work, carried out in conjunction with the NGO Catalyst, which works to strengthen women’s leadership, also found that three in five female employees are convinced that their prospects for a promotion are worse in their new remote work environment. This fear is greater for them than for them.
Previous research supports these conclusions. So far, several studies have noted that women’s views were already being ignored during face-to-face meetings. Some researchers coined terms like manterrupting, when a woman is continually interrupted by a man; mansplaining, when a man explains ideas to women assuming they don’t know them, and bropropriating, when a man appropriates the idea of a woman. “In meetings, even when they are informal, women have more difficulty in disagreeing and expressing their opinion. It is a sign of the socialization they have had throughout their lives due to their gender,” explains Concepción Fernández, professor of social psychology from the Complutense University of Madrid.
Now, since remote working is the common scenario for many employees, this dynamic has carried over into the digital world. In Fernández’s opinion, it is not technology that has caused these difficulties, nor is it helping to solve them, but rather perpetuates them. “This situation is also being reproduced in the digital environment simply because now that is where the meetings are held,” explains Fernández.
There are some specific areas where it can be a bit more difficult to express ideas during a video call. “It is easy to be ignored or silenced during a call or a Zoom meeting, where others cannot read your body language and intuit if you have a question or want to intervene,” explains Dafne Cataluña, psychologist and founder of the European Institute of Positive Psychology. “And it is also easier for it to happen to people whose opinion is usually less taken into account in those settings, as is the case of women.”
Other personal skills also play a role, such as directivity, that is, the ability to set a goal and get others to accompany you to achieve it. “Research in psychology has shown that this strength is more developed in men”, says Catalonia. “This would partly explain why we don’t communicate with the same trust or authority that they usually do.” Directivity has a lot to do with self-confidence and socialization processes.
“Women are systematically seen as having less authority, their influence is less. They speak less and when they do, they are not heard as much and they are interrupted more,” explains Jessica Preece, associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University. ). Her research team discovered last year that despite advances, social dynamics that put women down continued to prevail, “even in the best-intentioned settings.” “The problem is not necessarily intentional, it is a systemic problem. We have been socialized for years to dismiss female experience and perspectives more easily than male ones,” Preece says.
Technology has not fixed this problem, it has simply brought a little more attention to it. “Until we have had to telework, nobody has wondered if women are also less listened to in video calls”, explains Catalonia.
In order that the opinion of women is taken into account, both in the analog and digital world, the advice most indicated by the experts is that both they and the rest of the colleagues present report this behavior at the moment it happens. For this, Catalonia points out, it is necessary to have an adequate level of assertiveness, “to be able to communicate expressing our opinion clearly. When we have been wanting to say something for a long time and have not felt capable of doing so, we tend to go to the opposite extreme and ask for the angry things, but it is not recommended. ”
It is also important that company leaders do their part to ensure that a culture in which the common practice is to interrupt colleagues or appropriate their ideas is not perpetuated. “The bosses must encourage the participation of women, they must not allow the opinion of those who participate the most or who make themselves heard by system,” advises Catalonia.