Speaking While Female

By Vanessa Garcia (Kai Guest Contributor) 

It’s Monday morning and they file into the boardroom. Dressed in the black or blue suits they wear every single day, the business men joke with each other, laughing boisterously as they recall the Seattle Seahawks’ final play the day before.

    Before the boardroom door is closed, a business woman in a gray pantsuit hurries in with a coffee cup and her work documents. Looking around the long meeting table, she scans the seats for a place to sit. She quickly notes to herself that there are only men in this room, but this objective observation does not surprise her: it’s her day-to-day setting.

    Organizing her papers, she waits for chat about Tom Brady or Richard Sherman to die down. She watched the SuperBowl too, but both men seated on either side of her have their backs turned to her, already engaged in another conversation. Finally, the meeting starts and the boss stands up.

    “Alright boys--er, and Helen--let’s talk about our clients. We’ve been a little slow on getting new ones, so this meeting will be geared towards changing that. Any ideas?”

    Taking out the notes she prepared last night, Helen raised her hand.

    “Uh, yes, Helen...no need to raise your hand, we’re all adults here.”

    “Okay, sorry. I think we need better follow-up. Whenever we meet our clients we’re great with getting them excited about what we can offer them, but right after they leave, it’s almost as if we never really met with them at all. A phone call or e-mail the day after to recap on our future plans--”

    A man cleared his throat harshly.

    “What about a different setting? Why not bring the clients to meet at a classy restaurant instead of these boardrooms? Get them a little drunk?”, the man chuckled. Around the table, heads nodded enthusiastically in agreement. Great idea was warmly murmured from various seats.

    Helen blinked. Did she just get cut off? Not to mention, no one was receptive to her idea. All she remembered were cold stares and empty silence. Shrugging, she decided to keep taking notes on what was being said. Fifteen minutes passed. Then thirty.

    When the meeting seemed to be dying down, Peter Johnson had an idea. “Wait...what if reached our clients right after our meetings, you know, to follow-up with them?” Immediately, the businessmen stopped packing up their stuff, and looked at each other.

“Simple, but thoughtful!”

“I love it. How can we specialize our follow-ups?”

“Let’s start discussing this right now. Great contribution, Peter.”

To the sound of pens eagerly clicking and papers being put out on the table again, Helen sat silently in her chair. Gently closing her eyes, she quietly stated, “I need to use the restroom. Excuse me, gentlemen.” Her departure from the boardroom was ignored, and the businessmen continued to speak excitedly amongst themselves.

This piece is based off Sheryl Sandberg’s and Adam Grant’s New York Times article “Speaking while Female.” Many fantastic nuances are pointed out by Sandberg and Grant about the ways in which females are discouraged to speak, but one study they referenced particularly caught my attention:


Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.”