Business woman in STEM

Published on June 5th, 2020 | by Nancy F. Clark

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How Women In STEM Combat Interruptions And Idea Appropriations

By Elyse Stoltz Dickerson–

Make room

Women, especially in business and STEM-related fields, are frequently interrupted in meetings when they share noteworthy ideas and valuable information. Statistically, there are less women in these fields than men, (women hold less than a quarter of STEM jobs according to Stem For Her) leading to underrepresentation and reinforcing the negative, stereotypical idea that women are inherently unsuitable for STEM-related jobs. Of course, it goes without saying that idea is completely untrue and proven false. The American Association of University Women notes that unconscious biases and negative stereotyping causes this disparity. Yet, the fact remains that women who are in STEM are still interrupted, perhaps unintentionally, by their male counterparts during boardroom meetings, in labs, and in daily tasks, even going so far as to stealing their ideas (again, perhaps unintentionally) and withholding credit.

Like many of you, I’ve been there. Having been in STEM for 15 years, I’ve experienced many interruptions and instances of idea stealing.

For these reasons, I started getting to business meetings early and sitting at the conference table near the projector. I found that by doing this, I was more inclined to speak up, use my voice and share and claim my ideas.

It wasn’t always this way, though. I would sometimes find a seat in the back along the wall, out of everyone’s way. I thought I was being nice by giving the seats at the table to others; however, I didn’t realize I was doing a large disservice to myself. I deserved a seat at the table—literal and proverbial. We all do. Make room for yourself, your voice and your ideas.

Casually infringed

I found when I shared my ideas on the job, I was sometimes interrupted by other male colleagues.

Perhaps they never meant to cut me off; perhaps they were just excited about their idea and wanted to get it out before they forgot. Still, it left me feeling like my ideas were not as valued or heard.

According to Zimmerman and West, the age-old study that identifies interruption in regard to men and women, men interrupt women more often than any other pairing.

Zimmerman and West note that, “For, if interruptions are viewed as a violation of a speaker’s rights, continual or frequent interruption might be viewed as a disregard for a speaker, or for what a speaker has to say. Here we are dealing with a class of speakers, females, whose rights to speak appear to be causally infringed upon by males.”

It’s likely someone’s interrupted you in a business meeting and you weren’t sure how to respond. My advice?

  • Stay calm. You’ll most likely garner more respect by remaining calm and composed.
  • Slightly raise or wave your hand to get their attention and say, “Do you mind if I finish my thought?” Use your full voice; you deserve to be heard. But remember, stay calm.
  • Consider sitting at the table near the front. This positioning not only ensures that you’re serious about participating, it sends a message that women don’t need to give up a seat at the table for someone else. It’s okay to get there early and claim your spot.

Idea appropriation

Other likely boardroom scenarios include male colleagues appropriating women’s ideas, claiming them as their own original thoughts.

For instance, if a woman mentions an idea for an email campaign and a male colleague reiterates the same idea without giving credit and it grabs hold, it can leave one feeling depleted.

Perhaps that male colleague simply forgot you had already said that idea. Perhaps he thought of the same thing and wasn’t listening when you mentioned it first. Either way, I’ve noted some ways to avoid idea appropriation in the boardroom.

  • Suggest writing each idea presented on the board so everyone can keep track of what’s already been said.
  • If your idea is stolen, mention that since you had that idea earlier, perhaps you could collaborate on the project.
  • Fear of sharing your ideas and dismissing them with passiveness when you do share them gives others the opportunity to declare them as their own. For instance, using words like “maybe,” “sorry” and caveats like “this might be a dumb idea, but…” allows room for someone to capitalize on the lack of confidence present in your words. Claim your ideas with a confident voice. Even if your idea doesn’t take, you’ll at least have entered the conversation and made a contribution.

Claim your seat and your voice

Being a woman in a business or STEM-related field can be challenging at times. Societal stereotypes may hinder girls from studying STEM and business, thus leading to fewer females in the industries and fewer females taking a seat at that boardroom table. Interruptions happen and idea appropriation is common, but by claiming your seat and your voice, you’ll know how to handle those unfortunate situations.

Elyse Stoltz Dickerson is CEO and co-founder of Eosera, Inc., an innovative biotech company that puts people before profit, always. Check out our socials @EoseraInc

Nancy Clark is CEO of PositivityDaily, Director of Forbes WomensMedia, and author of The Positive Journal. She coaches companies and executives in business skills with the added benefit of training in positive psychology and happiness -- incorporating the latest scientific studies on changing brain patterns and habits. Clark believes that positivity is the next necessary step to engage employees.

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About the Author

Nancy Clark is CEO of PositivityDaily, Director of Forbes WomensMedia, and author of The Positive Journal. She coaches companies and executives in business skills with the added benefit of training in positive psychology and happiness -- incorporating the latest scientific studies on changing brain patterns and habits. Clark believes that positivity is the next necessary step to engage employees.



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