If you watched the presidential debate聽last聽week, you聽probably noticed how much Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton. If you鈥檙e a woman聽working in any type of professional environment, you likely聽have experienced a similar (although maybe聽less pointed) form of disruption聽during a presentation or meeting at work. It鈥檚 well-established that women get interrupted more than men, with studies confirming this fact dating back as early as聽1975. The researchers聽actually found that, in the mixed-sex conversations they聽included in the study, men were responsible for all but one of the interruptions they observed, making their finding that women get interrupted by men wayyy more than the other way around pretty definitive.聽But why is this, and how can you deal with it in a professional setting? We chatted with Ferne Traeger,聽an executive coach, psychoanalyst, and the Founder and President聽of Beyond the Boardroom,聽to discuss the best methods for combatting this apparent gender bias in the workplace and to dissect the root of the problem.

Colleagues at an office meeting


Traeger believes that the practice takes root in antiquated gender stereotypes, even amongst young people. 鈥淭here鈥檚 still an idea聽that women should be seen but not heard; that they should wait their turns and act demurely,鈥 says Traeger. 鈥淭his extends to women being uncomfortable promoting themselves or tooting their own horns, versus men who have no discomfort in this arena. Unfortunately, this is part of why women are often passed over for promotions at work.聽Even today, little girls are still socialized to be 鈥榣adylike,鈥 which is a euphemism for demure and quiet.鈥 Perhaps it makes sense then, that if a woman is being something other than demure and quiet, she鈥檒l be interrupted.

Women who fight against these interruptions or stick up for themselves in any way are often are seen as 鈥渉arsh鈥 and 鈥渁ggressive.鈥澛營n fact, Sheryl Sandberg鈥檚 Women in the Workplace research from 2016 found聽that 鈥渨omen who negotiate are disproportionately penalized for it,鈥 since people perceive it as too aggressive. This notion of women advocating for themselves being 鈥渁ggressive鈥 is undoubtedly related to how women deal with being interrupted. Sure, it鈥檚 easy to imagine snapping back at whoever it is that鈥檚 cutting into your talking time, but will聽that cause others to perceive聽you as 鈥渢oo bossy鈥 or 鈥渆ntitled?鈥 Of course, if a man reacted in this way, he would be seen as strong and capable, which yet again reveals an inherent gender bias that occurs in the workplace. Traeger does feel optimistic that millennials, at least, are more aware that these聽gender biases exist and progress is being made in the way women are treated in the workplace. It鈥檚 clear, though, that there鈥檚 still work to do.


鈥淚t鈥檚 difficult to know how to respond to being interrupted, because聽a woman runs the risk that if she pushes against the stereotype, she reinforces it,鈥 says Trager. In other words, if you react assertively聽to being interrupted and say that you鈥檙e not okay with it, you鈥檙e reinforcing the stereotype of being 鈥渁ggressive,鈥 but if you allow someone to continue interrupting you without speaking up for yourself, you鈥檙e being 鈥渄emure and quiet.鈥 It鈥檚 quite the catch-22.

1. Stop and Wait: In these situations, Traeger recommends a strategy similar to HRC鈥檚 in the debate: 鈥淥ne strategy is for a woman to become silent once interrupted, and look the interrupter in the eye until they聽stop talking. This is a good tactic because it doesn鈥檛 reinforce any聽stereotype.鈥 Being silent is the opposite of being aggressive, while making eye contact lets your interrupter know that you鈥檙e aware of what they鈥檙e doing.

2. Take It Offline: Another strategy is to simply take the offender aside privately and let them know that their interruptions are not okay. This tactic works better with someone who is your peer, since 鈥渙ne treads more gingerly with one鈥檚 boss, and has to weigh the ramifications of pushing back versus聽conforming to the聽status quo more heavily,鈥 notes Traeger. If you think your interrupter might not be aware of what they鈥檙e doing or that it鈥檚 disrespectful, this is the best strategy to take.

3. Fixing the Bigger Problem: Most importantly, says Traeger, 鈥淚 believe we want to attack the bias聽not the behavior.鈥澛Getting your coworker聽to stop interrupting you at work won鈥檛 suddenly make people treat women equally in the professional world, but taking measures聽toward making women equal in the workplace will get them to stop interrupting you 鈥 for good. 鈥淩esearch shows that work teams that are more diverse perform better; women are more competent when it comes to leadership skills, although men are more confident,鈥 she says. The聽onus falls on employers to make sure they鈥檙e doing their part. Some ideas Trager suggests are to聽鈥渆ncourage women to speak up and be heard, call on them, have a no interruption rule and聽increase the number of women in leadership roles. These are all bias interrupters.鈥

So for now, if you want to deal with an interrupting problem in the moment, give one of Traeger鈥檚 strategies a try, but when you鈥檙e eventually in charge (and you know you will be), know that changing聽how women are thought of聽in the workplace is priority number one.聽When women are paid equally, treated equally and perceived equally, solutions to the unique problems women face in the workplace will follow.

Do you get interrupted at work? Tell us how you deal with it聽@BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)