Merriam-Webster added mansplaining to its dictionary in 2018, indicating the verb describes “when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does.”
In 2012, Rebecca Solnit originally described the mansplaining phenomenon in her essay “Men Explain Things to Me: Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way.” Even though Solnit didn’t coin the actual term, her essay served to put a spotlight on this behavior and for good reason. It’s overwhelmingly common to experience mansplaining in a variety of circumstances. However, it is the most prevalent in the workplace.
Have you considered how mansplaining could be impacting your workplace? If so, it might be time to implement some changes to address the situation to create a more positive and cohesive work environment.
1. Mansplaining Undercuts Personal Value
While the term is relatively new, mansplaining is far from a modern phenomenon. It’s occurred for centuries. Studies have shown that men interrupt women with greater frequency and more intrusively than they would men. While the perpetrator of this behavior may not be consciously trying to convey superiority, mansplaining operates on the principal that the recipient is at a disadvantage in terms of knowledge and understanding. Consequently, it can cause female workers to feel incompetent and that the workplace does not appreciate or even recognize their value. This actively disengages these employees and hinders productivity by stripping away the communal sense of inclusion, belonging and collaboration. In turn, this can cause higher turnover.
Since this behavior is usually unconscious and representative of a genuine desire to help, awareness is key here. Consequently, diversity training should include mansplaining education and preventative measures so that employees can be mindful of their behavior and its effects.
2. Mansplaining Highlights Stereotypes
Traditionally “masculine” subject areas tend to spark higher incidents of mansplaining. When a male employee automatically concludes he has to explain something to a woman without knowing her familiarity in this area, it reinforces negative gender stereotypes that women are somehow less than men in terms of competence, intelligence and education.
3. Mansplaining Can Harm Career Advancement
From an early age, women experience more interruptions than men. Consequently, it is naturally harder for women to progress in the workplace when they’re working with greater time restrictions. Furthermore, when women make points in meetings, they statistically face a higher risk of being interrupted, corrected or not being taken seriously. Even though women outnumber men, they speak up less than their male counterpoints, beginning at an early age. Also, when women mimic the male pattern of interruption, they are often perceived as ruder, more abrasive and less intelligent than men.
Inclusion and diversity training that includes mansplaining components is the first step in preventing the behavior. Increasing awareness is absolutely critical, because men are often completely unaware of this behavior.
If you feel that you may be engaging in this problematic behavior, try to be more mindful during your interactions with colleagues. Practice listening more and speaking less. This allows you to learn more about an individual’s strengths and helps combat negative assumptions about the person’s intelligence and knowledge. Also, try not to offer opinions, advice or commentary about a topic unless your colleague specifically asks. Furthermore, if you see the behavior, say something so that the mansplainer is conscious of the potentially negative interpretations of this behavior and can consciously modify it in the future.