I will never forget the first time I was invited to attend a project team meeting for a large project. I was so excited and proud to be asked as a non-scientist and administrative assistant to attend this weekly meeting. Here I was, finally sitting at the table as a “team member” — or so I thought. I offered up my one relevant idea and was dismayed when it was immediately pooh-poohed. Fifteen minutes into the meeting, the co-lead for the project joined the meeting via telecon. He blithely offered up the very same idea and that launched a long and fruitful discussion among team members on how to implement that idea.
There are all sorts of reasons why my idea might not have been considered. It might have been too early after my invitation to start contributing to the meeting. It might have been because I was a relatively junior member of the team. Or perhaps (and I must admit that this is what I tend to think), it was simply a case of gender bias.
As dismayed as I was at the time, I think that this is an opportunity for all of us to change for the better. A recent article in the New York Times suggests that men in leadership positions should actively encourage contributions from women. It cites the example of President Obama calling only on women for questions during a press conference. It suggests putting more women in leadership positions. It also suggests providing opportunities for women to provide their contributions anonymously. As an institution committed to progress, I am optimistic that, if we do these things, we will be able to benefit equally from everyone offering their ideas – without regard to their seniority, gender, age, or race.
Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, is an expert in the ways in which men and women communicate and the misunderstandings this can create. Her first book, You Just Don’t Understand, is available on Amazon, and she also has a blog on the Huffington Post.