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Now Men Are Drowning Out Women on Zoom

Vivia Chen

July 8, 2020

Counselor-4305394_1920I wish I could collect that proverbial nickel every time someone tells me that law firms, corporations and the world will be more egalitarian and inclusive because of COVID-19. I hear this from law firm partners, members of the C-suite and lowly, wistful associates. You’ve probably heard it too—that people are more reflective now, that they’re empathetic and that there’s a real hunger for change.

That sanguine view is reflected in a recent survey by nonprofit Catalyst, which finds that seven in 10 employees believe that COVID-19 will stimulate gender equity in the workplace. Moreover, eight in 10 business leaders believe the pandemic will eventually result in a more inclusive workplace for people of color. (The report, conducted in early June, surveyed 1,100 U.S. business leaders and employees.)

My, my, so much riding on the disruptive powers of COVID-19. I don’t doubt that it’s altered the way we work and live, but will this pandemic topple the white male patriarchy and usher forth a new era in which women and people of color share the power structure?

I’m not so hopeful. And, if you read between the lines, neither are the respondents in that Catalyst survey. It turns out that fewer than 41% of employees believe their workplaces are “fully committed to—and already taking steps to create—an inclusive workplace.”

“We see a clear tension between optimism for a more inclusive and equitable workplace and skepticism that companies and business leaders will actually take the necessary steps to address disparities at the organizational level,” says Catalyst president and CEO Lorraine Hariton.

Management see things through rose-colored glasses. The report finds “business leaders (56%) are more likely to believe that their company is taking steps to enhance gender equity during this pandemic, as compared with employees (34%).” And leaders are “more likely to believe that working remotely has facilitated a more inclusive environment (56% vs. 28%).”

Talk about management patting themselves on the back—prematurely!

That said, female managers, in particular, might be displaying some wishful thinking. The report finds that 80% of female leaders (vs. 60% of their male counterparts) believe that for senior leaders, gender equity is more important now than before the onset of coronavirus. And for whatever reason, more female leaders trust their company to create a more inclusive workplace in the future (80% women vs. 75% men).

But beneath all that cheery talk, it’s clear women generally who are hitting some bumps at home and at work during the pandemic.

For instance, the report finds working women feel they still bear most of the responsibilities at home: While one in three men claim they’re doing more at home, “only 13% of women say that their male partner has taken more of the household chores.” Moreover, “women are twice as likely as men to be primarily responsible for homeschooling their children”—which, based on my reporting, is a major tension spot for female lawyers in their relationships.

And on the work front, those Zoom meetings are not helping women. An astounding 45% of female leaders attest that “it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings,” an observation agreed to by 42% of male leaders. And one in five women reports feeling “ignored and overlooked by coworkers during video calls,” and another one in five employees report witnessing more discrimination at work since the outbreak of the pandemic.

I must say I’m not at all surprised that men are again dominating those video calls. Though I had reported during the early days of the pandemic that folks were mindful of giving each other equal air time, Zoom etiquette seems to be withering away. Lately, I’m hearing that those alpha males are back, and women are again sidelined.

Not that women aren’t trying to assert themselves. It’s just that they’re not hoggers. “We tend to make our point and shut up,” says a senior lawyer at a bank about her Zoom meetings. “Whereas the guys will go on and on. They love to hear themselves talk and talk and talk.”

Which means we’re getting adjusted to working in this new normal. And that means, sadly, a return to the old normal.


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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