When Olympic organizing committee leader Yoshiri Mori publicly explained that he'd prefer not to have more women on such committees because they talk too much, women across the world collectively groaned. Sure, Mori's remark was so blatant and outlandish that it brought swift condemnation and led to his resignation, but the truth is while Mori may have been one of the few individuals tone deaf enough to utter such things aloud, he's not the only one who thinks women are the office chatterboxes.
Traditional stereotypes paint men as "strong and silent" while women just can't seem to stop talking about their emotions and just about everything else. These stereotypes sound retrograde when you say them out loud, but as recent events in Japan illustrate they still lurk in plenty of brains.
Which is a problem because, among other reasons, they're the opposite of the truth. And you don't have to believe frustrated women who assure you that the problem isn't that men just can't get a word in at work (though you should). You can take it from no less an authority than star Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant.
How many studies do you need to convince you?
In a data-filled Washington Post op-ed, Grant runs through the science that shows it's men, not women, who talk more than their fair share of airtime. "The pattern is clear and consistent: It's usually men who won't shut up," Grant writes before listing a stack of studies to support this conclusion, including:
One showing male senators take up more time on the senate floor than female ones.
Another looking at groups that found when just one woman is present she speaks 40 percent less than male group members; only when there are four or more women present does each woman talk as much as each man.
Research shows male Supreme Court justices interrupt their colleagues three times more than female ones.
And perhaps most damning, an analysis of 43 separate studies showed "men were more likely than women to talk over others -- especially in intrusive ways that silenced the rest of the room and demonstrated their dominance."
Basically, wherever researchers think to look they find the same pattern: men chattering away, talking over others, and generally dominating conversations. Not women.
Please don't ask women to fix this
So why do these outdated stereotypes persist? Perhaps because when women do talk we hear them differently than men. Previous research has shown that when men and women interrupt in exactly the same way (the researchers gave subjects a script to follow), listeners perceived the men as less rude and more intelligent than the women.
This is just one finding in a long line of evidence that suggests it's simply easier to be judged rude and pushy if you're a woman. Thanks to cultural biases we expect women to be warm and caring and men to be more hard-charging. Men talking over others doesn't attract notice because it fits these often unconscious expectations. Women, when they violate these norms by being assertive and taking up their fair share of talking time, are judged more harshly.
So what's to be done? Grant points out that "women have received many tips on how to disagree without seeming disagreeable, challenge without being too confrontational, raise their voices without shouting." (I've written up some of these tips myself.) But perhaps the onus shouldn't be on women at all. Perhaps bosses should make sure they're aware of these biases and take steps to counteract them.
Or as Grant tweeted in response to the study on the different ways interruptions are received, "every team needs clear norms--are interruptions signs of engagement or disrespect?--applied to every member." It's not the job of the women on your team to make sure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to speak. It's your job as a leader.