Why Women in Power Keep Getting Interrupted

Disrespect toward women who had achieved the highest levels of power was rampant on Tuesday. At the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) was interrupted during her questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions by Sen. John McCain, who was frankly out of order. Meanwhile, at a meeting of board and employees to discuss sexist practices at Uber, a male board member tried to shut down a female. As Arianna Huffington discussed how one female director makes it possible for others, David Bonderman quipped, “more women means more talking.”

As Susan Chira pointed out in New York Times Business section, social media outrage ensued and Bonderman resigned from Uber’s board. But that doesn’t change reality—study after study proves that when women speak up they are shut down. Who can forget the fracas when Sen. Elizabeth Warren was determined to read Coretta Scott King’s letter on the floor of the Senate? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shut her down with a little-known rule.

“Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” he said. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Those last three words became a rallying cry—but as Tuesday showed, they’ve done little to move the bar toward equality.

The truth is that without a systemic change, no amount of public chastisement is going to help. I’ve seen this repeatedly in the corporations I’ve worked with—they throw millions of dollars at diversity programs, but little ever changes. Without a complete overhaul of the culture of a company, no amount of pithy sayings or public outrage will make the slightest bit of difference.

Photo credit: MMM