Your parents probably told you: Don’t interrupt. But could interrupting be exactly what women should do if they want to rise in the world of technology? Slate recently published an informal study that suggests the answer may be “yes.”
Linguist and technologist Kieran Snyder got curious about the matter. So, she sat through meetings where approximately 60 percent of the attendees were men. Over 15 hours of conversations, she noted that there were 314 interruptions, translating into an interruption once every two minutes and fifty-one seconds. One conclusion: people interrupt—a lot.
Of the 212 interruptions from men that Snyder logged, 70 percent cut off a woman. Of the 102 interruptions from women, 87 percent cut off other women. In other words, women interrupted men just 13 times. As Snyder points out, in 900 minutes of conversation, where someone was interrupted less than every three minutes, there were only 13 instances of a woman interrupting a man. Asks Snyder: “Does anyone else think this is a big deal?”
Not surprisingly, senior staff did the most breaking in. But here’s the interesting thing: Snyder observed that higher-level women interrupted all their male and female colleagues, regardless of status. In fact, all of the women who interrupted men were at the senior level. Another note: These women—there were three of them—were among the top four interrupters of everyone Snyder observed.
Snyder’s research suggests that women in tech won’t advance beyond a certain point unless they lose any inhibitions about interrupting. The results, she says, “[start] to put directional data behind the stereotype whereby strong female leaders are often dismissed with the pejoratives bossy, unpleasant, and bitchy.”
Do the results surprise you? They didn’t bat an eye among any of the women in tech that Snyder knows. She writes: “While the academic linguistic community has appropriately responded with suggestions for follow-ups and rigorous methodology since I first posted about this on Language Log, women in tech have mostly responded, ‘Yeah, duh.’”
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