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The Hazards of Speaking Up

In a sales meeting one hot summer in Doha, I decided that I had an opinion. And instead of keeping that opinion to myself; in a room full of sales staff; I voiced it.
The next few moments are indelible in my memory as an onslaught of nouns personifying my presence and intelligence was showered upon me in the most profound manner. I was a co-owner of that company but as a woman; I should have stayed quiet and listened. Having an opinion contrary or otherwise meant I was insulting the intelligence of the men in the room.



My perceived competency decreased in the room by measures only because I spoke up. I was labeled- aggressive, tenacious, abrasive and several gentlemen would shake their heads in disturbed silence; ending it with closing their eyes in a hopeless gesture simultaneously mumbling " That woman...."
How many times have I made bold, brash statements only to be called "emotional and incompetent." A man making the same bold, brash statements in a loud threatening tone is labeled a "leader " and a "visionary".
In a meeting with 3 gentlemen in silicon valley very recently; one of them forcefully asked me to explain the delay in a transaction and when I answered in the same tone; took offense to my brash behavior.
Speaking forcefully does not conform to the stereotype of women being caring and nurturing and therefore women face a forceful backlash than a man does when exhibiting the same behavior.
In a landmark study, Victoria Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann asked the question, “Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead?” Their study documented the unequal penalty women experience for showing anger at work, but then went further to explore the reasons behind this gender effect. Their results suggest that the penalty occurs because observers attribute women’s anger to internal characteristics (“she is an angry person,’’ ‘‘she is out of control”), while attributing men’s anger to external circumstances (“he was under a lot of stress,” “things were out of control so someone had to take charge”). While this bias against women is unfair, it is often unconscious/unintentional, which makes it even harder to address.

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