Guys, we need to talk. I’ve been working in the tech industry for about 20 years, and have seen some amazing changes around team dynamics. But there is one blind spot in particular that continues to crush innovation and cause talented, driven individuals to leave even the most prestigious opportunities.
By now you’ve heard them all: mansplaining, bropriating, manterrupting. I know – you’re over it, already. We all are. The problem is too many men either don’t see when this is happening or worse, they think it’s just one of many tools in the garage of upward mobility. Blowing it off as feminist-political-correctness-safe-spaces run amok will prevent you from understanding how this dynamic lures great teams into mediocrity.
Yes, there are blowhards of all genders who patronizingly explain things to those who are the actual experts. Yes, people have been stealing the ideas of others and presenting as their own since the dawn of time. And, yes, women tend to be interrupted more frequently by everyone, not just men.
However, men are in a unique position to disrupt these behaviors as they happen. Stick with me here.
People tend to assume that those who look like them also think like them. When men call out other men who “hepeat” (repeating a female colleague’s idea and failing to give credit), it has greater potential to disrupt the offender’s default reaction. The illegitimacy of the offenders’ “you’re over-reacting and being too sensitive” claim becomes more evident.
Attributing credit publicly also increases the likelihood that other team members will contribute new perspectives and approaches to problem-solving. Who wants to share ideas in an environment that incentivizes appropriating creativity?
The risk/reward trade-off for women in male-dominated spaces is another big consideration. If a woman calls out a male coworker when he presents her idea as his own – depending on the dynamics of the group – she risks being labeled as overly sensitive, emotional, or territorial. It’s also a really good way for her to become erased from future meetings.
Same goes when that one male engineer continually talks over every female engineer while she provides updates on her design review. A simple, “hang on, I can’t hear what she’s saying when you interrupt” comment can change the trajectory of someone’s entire career. I know, I’ve seen it.
If these behaviors go unchecked, they slowly establish as group norms and become very difficult to undo. Our bias toward cooperation and maintaining stasis reduces a team’s ability to reach the point of real benefit – collaboration.
Collaboration is different from cooperation, much in the same way diversity is vastly different than inclusion. Cooperation sounds good, but can contribute to mediocre results and lower overall satisfaction. Collaboration requires an open space to explore ideas and different perspectives. It also introduces a healthy use of conflict and encourages people to challenge assumptions or biased thinking.
Last, keep in mind that promoting collaboration and visibility is not about you, it’s about them. Ensuring that everyone on the team has space to shine does not make you a hero; it makes you a leader.
Photo credit: Pixabay