How to Shut Down Mansplaining at Work, According to 5 Philly CEOs
These leaders explain how they take control when a colleague, client or other party oversteps.
It is 2019, and mansplaining is unfortunately still a thing. Merriam-Webster defines the practice as “what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does.” In the workplace, mansplaining can be especially tough to address, as we navigate traditional workplace norms. We asked five local leaders about their experience with mansplaining in the office (and online) and what they did to curb the situation. They offer some tested strategies that can help you get through your next encounter with a mansplainer.
Onyx Finney, CEO and chief creative officer, The Creative Nous, LLC
I was leading a project and called a meeting. When I arrived, I was the only woman and youngest person at the table. The men proceeded to begin the meeting as if I wasn’t there and talk over me. When I finally used my outside voice to get their attention, one of the project partners told me that I had no place being there and, wait for it, this was “grown men” business. By trying to silence me, the men were minimizing my expertise and what I bring to the table. Needless to say, I immediately called the men out on their behavior and let them know what they were doing was unacceptable.
It’s easy to feel intimidated when you are being talked down to or diminished by a male colleague. Nonetheless, mansplaining is never okay and you don’t have to put up with it. You should assess the situation to determine which tip from below works best.
- Some people aren’t worth the energy no matter what you do. If you’re going to give someone the silent treatment, be Auntie Maxine [Waters] level of unbothered. Get the poker face together. Pull out your phone, pop in your headphones or imagine all you hear is Charlie Brown’s parents on the phone saying “womp, wah-womp womp,” if you have to pretend you’re listening.
- Let the know-it-all mansplainer dig his own grave. Let him take the lead on the presentation you prepared that he knows nothing about. He’ll realize he won’t be able to deliver the goods, and he’ll back down.
- If you’re in a meeting, redirect the conversation by changing the topic or asking someone else for their feedback. If he’s the type to pull a keep trying, let him know he’s free to go.
- Sometimes even the most ‘woke’ guys are horrified to find out they, too, are guilty of mansplaining. Bringing it to their attention will hopefully get them to pay attention to and correct patterns of behavior and biases.
Floss Barber, CEO, Floss Barber Inc.
The design industry requires collaboration with other fields that have been heavily dominated by men. However, I have been fortunate enough to not face a lot of mansplaining in my 30 plus years. More often, I sometimes get bullying or aggression.
One time, a project manager insisted that I was the cause of a problem with a carpet and the subsequent delay. In these situations, I stay calm and repeat the facts. When he persisted, I simply said he was inaccurate and that I did not appreciate his aggressive words. He stopped.
- I recommend making yourself the highest authority possible in your office and develop expertise in your field. It is hard to argue with recognized expertise. Or, make yourself an expert in your field. That way, if someone does try to mansplain, you feel very confident in your knowledge and it is easier to take whatever someone else has to say with a grain of salt.
- When mansplaining does happen, it is not necessary to react to or even combat what someone has to say. You can hear it and proceed on with the facts. It does help that I’ve been meditating for 30 years, because sometimes it’s a lot easier to say be calm and don’t react than to actually do it.
- I respect my colleagues and collaborators. I respect their knowledge of their fields and thus expect them to return the respect and understand my expertise in my field. In general, I find that things work this way.
Darlene M. Scott, founder and CEO, Basic Bliss Life Coaching
Over the years, I have held various positions in management and I have witnessed mansplaining, but it rarely happens to me now. Throughout, I learned to have more confidence in my voice and in my opinion, and I believe this has helped.
- Have executive presence and speak with confidence. Speak in a firm and consistent tone. Keep your back straight and chin up and speak from a knowledgeable base. Executive presence is not just about your knowledge of a subject, it is also conveyed through your tone of voice and posture. This technique is non-confrontational and can create an environment that does not allow mansplaining to thrive.
- It has been my experience that some women become deflated and retreat from the conversation when mansplaining occurs. Others may appear emotional or unhinged as they attempt to raise their voices in the boardroom. Neither yields consistent results. The keys are balance and confidence. If mansplaining continues even after a woman has displayed such confidence and poise, the only other option is to address it directly. A direct confrontation of mansplaining may start like this, “I noticed that whenever we speak about (insert the subject) you began to (insert mansplaining action here).” Then follow up with, “I’m not sure if you recognize that you do that, and I was hoping that we could move forward without (the mansplaining action) since we are both professionals.”
Jennifer Robinson, founder and CEO, Purposeful Networking
In addition to running my own business, I head a large local business organization for women called FemCity Philadelphia. The first year I was in charge I had a conversation with a sponsor where he “mansplained” the way to market to the women within the organization that I run. This followed a frank discussion where I had attempted to provide pointers about why his current methods were not resonating with the women.
- Shut the commentary down right away in a nice way. For example, if you are interrupted during a meeting or presentation say something such as, “Thank you. I’ll be addressing any questions at the end,” or “I’d love to hear your opinion after I finish expressing mine.”
- Advocate for other women in your workplace. If another woman is being shortchanged, cut off or overlooked, take a stand. Point out her accomplishment, idea or that she hasn’t been able to express her thought and you’d like to hear the rest of it.
- Don’t play nice. Sometimes it is appropriate to simply call someone out. Use your judgment and do it sparingly. But if one particular man is always interrupting or claiming credit for your ideas, call him out directly and publicly. Usually this will cause enough embarrassment to shut someone up and hopefully ponder what behaviors they can modify in the future.
Kristen Berman, owner and CEO, Philly MADE Creative
I work with my husband, who is my business partner, and he does not “mansplain” things to me. We are a great team, and we respect what we each bring to the table in our workplace environment. He and I have discussed at length issues related to sexual harassment that I and other women face. In our own way we do what we can to combat it.
Everybody is allowed to have their own opinions, but I think it’s damaging to assume a man is being condescending only towards women because they are women. Some people (men included) are just condescending people, regardless of who they are talking to. It’s true that some men are offensive in this way, putting women down because they are women. But online especially, I think it is worth holding off on that kind of judgment until you see somebody acting in a patterned way. A single comment, taken out of context, spun with an agenda, can be very misleading. A continued pattern of behavior is harder to refute, and easier to identify.
As far as combatting “mansplaining” goes, I’m more concerned about actual sexual harassment than assumptions made based on out-of-context communications between men and women online. Usually, I ignore those kinds of messages unless I find it necessary (at my own discretion) to call it out by posting an image of it. I have redacted the people’s names in those cases because I also know the internet can fuel a mob mentality which makes me very uncomfortable.
I’ve been sexually harassed throughout my career and don’t always know how to handle it. That can make me feel inferior, weak, and ashamed, which is counter-productive, and allows somebody else to persist in their poor behavior. My husband and I have agreed to allow at least a “1-strike” policy for somebody who makes an off-hand comment about me or in my presence, before we say something to them. We have chosen not to do business with people who we believe act inappropriately. Matt has confronted people on my behalf, and I have taken it upon myself with some men to say, “Don’t call me sweetie.”