During the first 2016 presidential debate, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 51 times, according to Vox’s count. (Clinton only interrupted Donald Trump 17 times.) In the first 26 minutes, Vox reports Trump interrupted Clinton 25 times. USA Today reports at least 22 times.
Whether or not, these interruptions are warranted. (In most cases, Trump’s interruptions were lies, dismissive nods, rhetorical questions, and never-ending filibusters.) It was a stunning reminder to my own personal experiences working in tech and games. I can recall numerous occasions from meetings at work, panel sessions at conferences, and conversations at networking events where I have been interrupted. In one particular panel session where I was the only female participant among four panelists, the male moderator interrupted me every time I spoke. By the third time, I wanted to interject, “Sir, please let me finish.” However, I held my tongue and smiled respectfully, as I yielded the floor.
Unfortunately, decades of research show that women are interrupted more often by men. Although studies vary by design and time period, the general findings remain the same. Men are more likely to interrupt others, especially women. On the other hand, when women make interruptions, they are more likely to interrupt women instead of men. On top of that, women are often penalized or given less credit when they choose to interrupt others. Too often, I heard from industry that my “outspoken attitude” was seen as “arrogant,” “inexperienced” or “immature.”
After being in male-dominated industries for almost a decade, all those minor gestures, comments and looks eventually wore on me. There are only so many times that I can smile when I am interrupted. I can only receive so much backlash while a male peer is praised for raising the same point minutes later. My opinions can only be ignored for so long when I hear that follow-up meetings occurred without me. At some point, I had enough. When I first joined the tech industry in 2010, I fully believed that the Internet would truly revolutionize the world and make people’s lives better. When I left my last startup gig earlier this year, I was unsure whether I would return to tech again.
What can we do? Yield the floor. Call them by name. Recognize their points. Listen to their points and questions. Acknowledge their contribution. Those five small things will go a long way in changing social discourse not only in tech but also across generations.
“So sir, please let me finish.” Actually, I don’t need to be courteous. “Shut up, and let me fuckin’ finish.”