Getting meta in meetings


I recently started a new job at a new institution after 5 years at UBC. It’s always interesting navigating new group dynamics at a new place, but it’s been especially interesting through the lens of a few articles I’ve recently read about gender in the workplace (this one and this one especially). They discuss the phenomena of ‘manterrupting’ and ‘bro-propriating’, when men interrupt women or re-appropriate their ideas in meetings.

In several seminars and meetings, I found myself losing track of the discussion and focusing instead on the dynamics of the discussion. I’ve only witnessed one instance of manterrupting so far (two people spoke at the same time and the male speaker persisted with their question while the female speaker backed off). In a few meetings, especially seminars where the people in the audience don’t know each other as well (as in group meetings, for example), it seems as though men are dominating the discussion. This could simply be confirmation bias or it could be that there are more men in more senior positions, and the more senior people are speaking up. Who knows. The other interesting observation was how people started their idea statements – several women began their comments with apologies or disclaimers (“This may be silly, but…”).

The most interesting meta-moment for me, though, was in a weekly seminar that changed it’s format between weeks. The first week, after the presentation, we broke up into small groups and discussed the presentation and came up with some topics of discussion, feedback for the speaker, etc. Then we took turns going through the groups and providing our report. The next week, instead of breaking into groups, we just had a full group discussion after the presentation, where people would speak up at their own will. In both cases, we were told before the presentation how the discussion was going to run. I should also post the disclaimer that the presentation during the first week was about girls in science, while the second week presentation had little to do with science education specifically.

Either because of my interest or because of the fact that we were going to break into small groups, during the first week I took lots of notes and I presented for my group (which consisted of me and two men). The next week, I remember actively telling myself that I wouldn’t bother taking notes for this one like I did the week before, since I wasn’t going to have to participate in the small group discussion. At this point I stopped myself and started reflecting on what was going on in my head [which led to this blog post]. Rather than think to myself, “ooh, I better pay attention then so I can come up with something smart to say in the discussion,” (as was my male partner’s response to this story) I thought, “well, I guess this means I don’t have to participate then.” I really thought that kind of decision was something that would happen subconsciously, not consciously.


Now, there are some limitations to my anec-study (anecdote study?), as I already mentioned, especially the content of the presentations themselves. Nonetheless,  I specifically remember thinking to myself that I didn’t need to work so hard during this one and could just enjoy the presentation. I don’t know if anyone else (other women) in the room had this thought, but the subsequent discussion definitely felt dominated by male speakers (again, could be confirmation bias, since at this point I was paying more attention to the dynamics than the content).

Has anyone else ever gotten ‘meta’ in a meeting or talk or seminar like this? I’m very curious to hear other people’s experiences.

2 thoughts on “Getting meta in meetings

  1. Since entering academia at the faculty level, I have noticed that people in power, in general, have this tendency to talk over top of others. With respect to this happening to me, I have noticed that it happens just as much with females in power as with males, but since it is more often males in these positions it is more often males that are talking over me.

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