‘Mansplaining’ having a strong effect on women in the workplace, study finds

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Michigan State University and Colorado State University researchers Caitlin Briggs, Danielle Gardner and Ann Marie Ryan recently conducted three studies to determine how men and women react differently to condescending communication — often called “mansplaining.” As reported by Fortune, the researchers ultimately found that mansplaining has a significant impact on women at work.

“Results demonstrated that when faced with condescending explanation, voice nonrecognition, or interruption, women reacted more negatively and were more likely to see the behavior as indicative of gender bias when the communicator was a man,” the study reported.

Within the first study, 128 participants were asked to entertain a hypothetical — one where they had been appointed to a committee charged with allocating bonus funds to deserving employees. Participants then each entered a meeting with two actors. One actor was tasked with questioning each participant on if they understood the task by mansplaining the task at hand.

Women were found to be less likely to work with a mansplainer again than men. Men were found to be relatively unmoved by interruptions and condescending conversations, while women were found to have negative reactions — even sometimes questioning their own competency.

“We found some evidence of important contextual factors, specifically that competence-questioning behaviors occurred more often when women were junior or equal to (rather than senior to) the communicator in work status, and most often occurred in the presence of others and focused on work-related topics,” the study reported.

The study also stressed that management make a few key considerations to reduce mansplaining in the workplace.

“In terms of practical implications, managers might consider greater attention to when, where, and why competence-questioning behaviors occur,” the study reported. “Discussions and trainings that focus on how to appropriately raise doubts about another’s actions or ideas and how to provide feedback can allow opportunities to discuss any gender links in enacting such behaviors, as well as give individuals the tools to ensure competent work occurs while providing psychological safety for others when raising critiques.

“Observational audits of meeting behaviors might also give work teams useful insights into whose ideas are incorporated and when gendered behaviors may be occurring. Such activities that would help assess the prevalence and impact of competence-questioning behavior at the organizational level should be seen as important.”