EP. 15 In Conversation With Mary Ann Sieghart, journalist, columnist and author of The Authority Gap

Novi CEO Griselda Togobo spoke to Mary Ann Sieghart about her new book: The Authority Gap, Why Women Are Still Taken Less Seriously Than Men, and What We Can Do About It.

Women need to recruit allies in the world of work to help them combat the sexism that they encounter every day.

The journalist, columnist and author, Mary Ann Sieghart, said most women had experienced meetings during which they were interrupted or they put forward an idea which was ignored, only for the same idea to be taken up later when it was presented by a man.

Calling out such behaviour was one solution, she said, as was asking the person who chairs the meeting to intervene. Recruiting fellow attendees to provide support and back-up also helped.

Mary Ann, who was in conversation with Forward Ladies CEO Griselda Togobo, told the audience that all women have a responsibility to support other women.

“As women we need to stand up for other women as well and actually men do that more than women do. Men are more likely to have male allies around the table who will affirm what they say than women do.”

No Woman Is Immune

Mary Ann told the Forward Ladies audience that data she found while researching her book, The Authority Gap, had shocked her.

“I had assumed, when I started, that once you attained a certain amount of authority as a woman, you became much more insulated from this sort of behaviour … being patronised and under-estimated and interrupted and talked over and all that.”

But she said that a study of proceedings at the US Supreme Court found that, although women make up only one-third of the Justices, they suffer two-thirds of the interruptions. In other words, they’re four times more likely to be interrupted than their male colleagues and 96 per cent of the interruptions are by men.

She said the findings of another study, which revealed that British parents estimated their sons’ IQs, on average, at 115 and their daughters’ IQs at 107, were shocking and sad. This continued into adulthood, when men estimated their own IQs at 110 and women at only 105. Mary Ann said that we’re imbuing boys and men with the idea that they’re superior to girls and women.

Boastful Boys And Self-Deprecating Girls

Mary Ann explained that as youngsters, boys are able to be boastful and competitive within their friendship groups. But girls don’t accept the same type of behaviour from each other and are self-deprecating. This then affects how they behave as adults in the workplace.

However, she said the solution wasn’t as simple as telling women to be more assertive: “Once we do start behaving as confidently and as assertively as men, people recoil and they start to use words about us like, oh she’s quite strident or abrasive or aggressive or overbearing or bossy – adjectives that are never used of men showing exactly the same character traits. That’s because we still have these really sneaky old-fashioned stereotypes lurking in our brains.”

Mary Ann said the answer was complex: “The only way through this is to layer oodles of warmth on to our personality to mitigate any of the hostility that acting like a man might produce, which is both exhausting and often inauthentic. We have to smile a lot and be incredibly nice to everybody and read the room very carefully and be very emotionally intelligent and not tread on any men’s egos. It’s exhausting and men don’t have to do this at all.”

The Confidence Trick

Mary Ann told the Forward Ladies audience about the difference between confidence and competence. We tend to mistake confidence for competence, so a manager is more likely to promote an over-confident man than an under-confident woman, even if the woman is more competent.

She recommended the book, Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders (and how to fix it), by behavioural psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, in which he explores how the characteristics that enable some men to become leaders are the very things that make them poor performers. He highlights data to support the view that women make better leaders than men.

A Bigger Gap For Black Women

Mary Ann said that the authority gap for black women, women with disabilities and working class women was even bigger.

“Black women are much more likely even than white women to say that they have to prove their competence, or that people are surprised at their ability.”

Trans People Prove The Point

It can be difficult to prove that women’s experiences happen because they’re women but Mary Ann pointed to research conducted with people who have transitioned to live as a member of the opposite sex. Men who transitioned to become women reported a negative impact on how they’re treated in the workplace, while women who transition to men said there were many benefits.

Mary Ann said: “Trans men in particular say it’s fantastic once they begin living as a man: they’re respected more, they’re taken more seriously, people listen to what they say, they can get away with much more… if women make a mistake it’s absolutely pounced on. Men are allowed to fail and then just brush themselves off and start again.”

** The Authority Gap: Why Women Are Still taken Less Seriously Than Men, And What We Can Do About It, is published by Doubleday.



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Listen to what Mary Ann had to say about …

[2:07] How she had to succeed in the male domain of financial and political journalism before she felt she had the licence to write The Authority Gap.

[6:26] Research that shows boys are eight times more likely to be called on to speak in the classroom than girls.

[7:40] How male and female CEOs are regarded differently. A talkative male CEO is deemed to be more confident but the opposite is true for women.

 [13:44] How the different ways in which boys and girls form childhood friendships has an impact on our behaviour as adults.

[18:06] How society is in a transitional phase and our generation may have to make adjustments to allow younger women to come through with more authenticity. 

[22:00] How women leaders have performed well during the pandemic but we’re entranced by the charisma shown by certain male leaders.  

[22:53] How she interviewed 40 or 50 highly successful, authoritative women for the book and how even they had been affected by the authority gap.

[26:45] To network successfully women should be brave. If you meet someone really interesting at a party, follow it up and ask them if they’d like to have lunch.

28:27 How she has a condition called prosopagnosia or face blindness and how she’s overcome this in her career.

[34:08] The technique she uses when men make assumptions about her seniority.

[39:08] Making a portfolio career work.

About Mary-Ann Sieghart:

Mary Ann Sieghart spent 20 years as a senior editor and columnist at The Times and won a large following for her columns on politics, economics, feminism, parenthood and life in general.

She has presented many programmes on BBC Radio 4, such as Start the Week, Fallout, Profile, Analysis, One to One and a clutch of one-off documentaries. Most recently she presented Fallout, a series of Radio 4 programmes on the possible outcomes of the Coronavirus.

About Griselda Togobo:

The Novi CEO, Griselda Togobo MPhil, ACA, is an international corporate consultant and trainer. She is also a multi-faceted entrepreneur, engineer and chartered accountant. Also, she is a commercially focused business consultant but her experience as a black woman in the corporate world drives her. She now uses her international experience to help progressive global companies create inclusive workplaces. Griselda gives keynotes, talks and workshops to businesses interested in improving the gender and racial diversity of their teams. 

Griselda is passionate about supporting female leaders through the professional women’s network wearenovi.com.

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