Why Women in Tech Should Interrupt Men

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.”

Woman LeaderLinguist 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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7 Responses to “Why Women in Tech Should Interrupt Men”

    • Bravo Jason. I agree but unfortunately, alpha-dog levels are rising, not falling, as everyone needs to hold onto their jobs. Plus, the stakes are even higher in the winner-take-all economy. “Winners” will be the ones who won’t let anyone complete a thoug….

  1. This is truly obnoxious. One problem with this is that the people who want to show they’re newly empowered (of either gender, but often women) just blunder in because they want to talk, and offend. If you’re going to interrupt be sure it’s pertinent and not offensive.

  2. Muhammad Abdusamad

    I wonder if the research shows that interrupting is how women at senior levels advanced in the first place, or if its that women who have reached senior levels feel comfortable interrupting those below them. I have a suspicion that its the latter.

  3. Interrupting might be a trait of people who succeed, but it is not interruption that makes them successful. The behavior is a result, not a cause, of personal attributes that bring about success. I would regard excessive interrupting (especially if it is done in a disruptive way) as a specific reason for a demerit on the performance review for someone of either gender.

    The suggestion that anyone can be more successful if they just interrupt more is preposterous. Dice is really scraping the bottom with this article.

  4. The missing information from this research seems to be “when” to interrupt and the proper “how” to interrupt. There is a protocol for doing it and though no hard fast rules exist, I find it important to follow a basic guideline. If you are discussing an issue and the main point has been reached and there is just suflourious information being added, I will interrupt to keep to the main point or to ask the question. Keeps the momentum of the discussion moving forward, not dragging out. I would not interrupt someone making the main point, as it will draw out the conversation, rather than quicken the pace. This is an important ‘tool’ in troubleshooting an issue. I need the details of what happened and when and any error message or specific details, but not how the events around it went. So I will interrupt to keep to the basic needed information so I can get to work.