The Authority Gap Women Face and What to Do About It with Mary Ann Sieghart: Podcast Ep. 277

The Authority Gap Women Face and What to Do About It with Mary Ann Sieghart | Speaking Your Brand

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I’m going to start this podcast with a bit of a controversial question: Why do we (and, yes, I said we) often feel much more uncomfortable having a woman in a position of authority than we do men?

Think about some of the decisions you’ve made, from the books you read to the television broadcasters you listen to. How many are women? 

The authority gap isn’t just a challenge of how men see women but also how we as women see other women in positions of power and authority. 

As women we have to go beyond “lip service feminism” – it’s important that we are aware of our own biases so we can correct them.

My guest Mary Ann Sieghart is a London-based journalist and broadcaster and author of the new book “The Authority Gap: Why women are still taken less seriously than men, and what we can do about it.”

This is a wide-ranging and important conversation about why women have struggled to get into more leadership positions, from companies to governments, and even when they do, why they’re taken less seriously.

In this episode, Mary Ann and I talk about:

  • Why she felt compelled to write her book and how she defines the authority gap
  • Why it isn’t just about getting more women in senior leadership roles
  • The awkward interaction between Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, and Pope John Paul II that’s a perfect example of the authority gap
  • Why we shouldn’t mistake confidence for competence and how likability and warmth affect women leaders
  • What surprised Mary Ann about the research she found – and what made her optimistic
  • The types of public speaking that Mary Ann enjoys

About My Guest: Mary Ann Sieghart is a London-based journalist and broadcaster who has worked for the Times, the Independent, the Economist, the Financial Times, and the BBC. Her new book is called “The Authority Gap: Why women are still taken less seriously than men, and what we can do about it.” She researched this book as a Visiting Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford.

About Us: The Speaking Your Brand podcast is hosted by Carol Cox. At Speaking Your Brand, we help women entrepreneurs and professionals clarify their brand message and story, create their signature talks, and develop their thought leadership platforms. Our mission is to get more women in positions of influence and power because it’s through women’s stories, voices, and visibility that we challenge the status quo and change existing systems. Check out our coaching programs at https://www.speakingyourbrand.com

 

Links:

Show notes at https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/277/

Get Mary Ann’s book “The Authority Gap”: https://www.maryannsieghart.com/the-authority-gap/ 

Download our FREE workbook on how to position yourself as a thought leader: https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/guide/

Schedule a consult call with us to talk about creating your signature talk and thought leadership platform: https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/contact

Connect on LinkedIn:

 

Related Podcast Episodes:

277-SYB-Mary-Ann-Sieghart-Extra-Intro.mp3: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

277-SYB-Mary-Ann-Sieghart-Extra-Intro.mp3: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Carol Cox:
Hi and welcome to the Speaking Your Brand podcast. I’m your host, Carol Cox. This episode was recorded back in March and has already been packaged and ready to go. So I’m adding a new pre intro here at the very top because I couldn’t not say something with what’s been in the news the past couple of weeks here in the US. Now, if you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you know, I don’t shy away from uncomfortable subjects, especially around sexism and racism. And really what those things mean to me is that making sure that we are recognizing and respecting and valuing every single person’s full humanity. My background in local politics and as a political analyst on TV news has certainly given me lots of practice and talking about tough topics. But you’ll find if you work with us that we like to focus on the positive aspects of thought, leadership and the message and the speeches that you’re putting out into the world, that better world that you can help your audience imagine. We like to have fun and we like to laugh, and I’m an eternal optimist by nature. However, thought leadership isn’t just about the positive. It’s also about talking about uncomfortable topics. Even when we don’t have the answers or know exactly what to say or what we can do, or how our audience will react.

Carol Cox:
I don’t know exactly what to say about what happened in Buffalo, New York, this past Saturday. I’m sadden and sickened by the hate fueled, racist killings that targeted black women and men. My heart goes out to black communities across our country. No one should have to live in fear. But my thoughts and feelings are the starting point, not the endpoint. There are so many specific actions I can and try to take from purchasing books written by black women to showcasing black women here on the podcast and at our events, to hiring guest speakers, team members, contractors and vendors who are black women and women of color to working diligently to create a company culture that supports inclusion and diversity and being willing to be shown my own blind spots and missteps. And then a couple of weeks ago, news hit with the leak of the draft opinion of one of the Supreme Court justices about overturning Roe v Wade and removing rights that women have had in this country for the past 50 years, and by doing so with incredibly misogynistic arguments. And now I wonder what rights they’ll go after next same sex marriage, birth control and other reproductive rights, civil rights and voting rights. But of course, they’re already doing that. And I tell myself I’ll keep voting for and donating to progressive political candidates who support women’s rights and human rights.

Carol Cox:
But I also vacillate from anger to sadness and from determination to dismay. I remember when I was a teenager in the early 1990s learning about feminism and the women’s rights movement. And at first I was really confused. Why would women need a movement to claim equal rights? Of course we were equal. After all, I knew I was as smart and capable as any of the boys in my classes. And then as I got into my twenties and started experiencing sexist stabs here and there, I realized that as a woman, I wasn’t necessarily seen as equal. I felt the backlash from being a strong and confident woman in my opinions and my ambitions. Yet I took comfort in knowing that the law was on my side to provide me with the same life options as a man, including the protections accorded by Roe v Wade. We are now witnessing a generation of young women who have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers had and not have the comfort I always had that their choice when and if to have children is theirs to make. Unfortunately, we are witnessing the backlash that has been brewing for years as women have entered the public sphere, gained a public voice and sought equal rights. This is why my mission our mission as Speaking Your Brand of empowering more diverse, progressive women to find a user voice, to tell the stories that need to be told and to activate ideas for change is what drives the work we do every single day.

Carol Cox:
To all the women I know and to all the women listening, thank you for using your voice. We will be heard. Now on with the regular show. This is a wide ranging and important conversation about why women struggle to get into more leadership positions from companies to governments. This is what my guest, Marianne Siegert, calls the authority gap. Listen in on this episode of the Speaking Your Brand podcast. More and more women are making an impact by starting businesses running for office and speaking up for what matters. With my background as a TV political analyst, entrepreneur and speaker. I interview and coach purpose driven women to shape their brands, grow their companies and become recognized as influencers in their field. This is Speaking Your Brand, your place to learn how to persuasively communicate your message to your audience. Hi there and welcome to the Speaking Your Brand podcast. I’m your host, Carol Cox. I’m going to start this episode off with perhaps a bit of a controversial question. Why do we and I am including myself in this, often feel so much more uncomfortable having a woman in a position of authority than we do men? My guest, Mary Ann Siegert, is a London based journalist and broadcaster and author of her new book called The Authority Gap Why Women Are Still Taken Less Seriously Than Men and what We Can Do About It, and what Mary Ann calls the authority gap isn’t just a challenge of how men see women, but also how we as women see other women in positions of power and authority.

Carol Cox:
As women, we have to go beyond what Mary Ann mentions in this episode called lip service feminism. That is important, that we’re aware of our own biases and our own choices so that we can correct them and change them. A couple of years ago, back in March 2020, I did an episode called Why We’re Choosing Women’s Voices, and You Should, too. This is part of a challenge that we ran to make sure that we’re choosing authors, podcasters, journalists, influencers and etc. to follow who are women? That was Episode 162. So definitely go and check that one out. And then Mary Ann spoke is about this idea of the authority gap, which is what we’re going to talk about in today’s episode. If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you’ve heard me talk about what I have called the expert trap, which is different than the authority gap, the expert trap and what often holds women back from thought leadership. That was last year, an episode number to 41.

Carol Cox:
So you can go and check that one out as well after you listen to this episode. And the links to these related podcast episodes are in the show notes. If you’re new to the podcast, welcome Speaking Your Brand. We help women entrepreneurs and professionals clarify their brand, message and story, create their signature talks, and develop their thought leadership platforms. Our mission is to get more women in positions of influence and power because it’s through women’s stories, voices and visibility that we challenge the status quo and change existing systems. And this dovetails nicely with the work that Marianne does around the authority gap about why women have struggled to get into more leadership positions from companies to governments. And even when they do, why, they’re taken less seriously. Mary Anne and I talk about why she felt compelled to write her book and how she defines the authority gap, why it isn’t just about getting more women into senior leadership roles. It’s beyond that why we shouldn’t mistake confidence for competence and how likeability and warmth affect women leaders. I also ask Mary Anne what surprised her about the research she found and what made her optimistic. And then we end the episode talking about the types of public speaking that Mary Ann enjoys. Now let’s get on with the show. Welcome to the Speaking Your Brand podcast, Mary Ann.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Very nice to be on. Thank you.

Carol Cox:
Well, thank you so much for taking the time to be on for our listeners. Those of you who are maybe seeing the video, I have Marianne’s book here called The Authority Gap by Women are still taking less seriously than Men. And What We Can do about it and I hesitate to say I love the book because a lot of it, a lot of the findings and experiences as women, we have all experiences. So it wasn’t necessarily surprising, but it does get a little bit depressing. I know that you mentioned that in the book, but there there is hope. I think there’s hope. I always am an optimist. And so we’re going to definitely talk about the hopeful aspects as well. So, Marianne, let’s first define what is this authority gap?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
The authority gap is the difference between how seriously we take men and how seriously we take women. We’re still more reluctant to accord authority to a woman than we are to a man. And when I say authority, I mean it in both senses of the word. So, both in terms of expertise and in terms of power and leadership. And so as a result, we’re much more likely to underestimate a woman, to patronise her. Patronize her, I think you say in America, patronize her to interrupt her or talk over her, to not listen to her when she’s speaking in a meeting, and to challenge her expertise disproportionately. And when it comes to power and leadership, we often feel much more uncomfortable having a woman in a position of authority than we do a man.

Carol Cox:
Yes. And I know you’re based in London and I’m here in the United States. And we have definitely seen this with our various female leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, you know, most famously Hillary Clinton’s election campaign in 2016. And then and I know, Marianne for you, everyone from Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, to Theresa may. Margaret Thatcher, you know, way back in the 1980s and the way that we kind of boxed women in and the roles that they can have. So let let me go a little bit personal before we kind of zoom out to the global leadership. Marianne, why did you feel compelled to write this book? Was it just a series of experiences you had or what? Where did you finally decide, okay, I need to write this book.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
I guess it’s something that’s been bugging me from the age of about three, maybe even as a small child. I hated being patronized. I hated it when my brother was allowed to do things that I wasn’t. I hated being told. That’s not ladylike. Who cares if it’s ladylike or not? And as I grew older, I just noticed so often that people, particularly men, but not just men. By the way, this isn’t a man bashing book because women do it, too. But particularly men would underestimate me, you know, they’d asked me what I did, and I’d say, I’m a journalist. I should say. At the time I was a pretty senior journalist and an assistant editor of The Times in London, and this would be a classic conversation. They’d say, What do you do? And I’d say, I’m a journalist. And they’d go freelance, you know, start at the bottom. And I’d say, No, actually, I’m on staff. Oh, let’s say. And where do you work? And I’d say The Times. Oh they’d say, And what do you do there? And their voice would rise at every iteration of this. And I suppose they were thinking that they were being flattering, but actually it was pretty insulting because what it proved was and this is what I write about in the authority gap, would it prove to us that their default assumption of me was that I was going to be junior and probably boring and I was surprising them with the fact that I wasn’t. And as I got older and gained more in confidence, I would occasionally say to a man like this, just out of interest, if I’d been a man, would you have started the conversation in the same way and asked me if I were freelance? And they generally think for a moment or two and say, no, I guess I wouldn’t.

Carol Cox:
And Marianne, the stories that you write about in the book, your own and other women as well, and and we’ll get to some of those, but I love it in the beginning. I think this is your first chapter. You have these couple of paragraphs where it’s almost like you’re talking to men and you’re reversing the gender roles and you say like, imagine if it was the other way around. And then you go through these different scenarios and then you had one in particular, which is because I’m also working on a book, right? And you’ve published a book and I hear this from other women who write books as well. They said, Imagine writing a book and half the population doesn’t want to read it or won’t read it because it’s written by well by a man. That was the counterfactual. But in this case, it’s because it’s written by a woman. And I had Katrine Marcel on this podcast. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her a few months ago and she writes a lot about economics. If it was if it was a man writing the books that she wrote, everyone would be reading them. Right. For this book in particular, what have you experienced as far as men either wanting to read or not wanting to read it or even review it?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
I really want this book to be read by men. It is so important that men read it. And of course I want women to read it, and I’m sure they will, and it will give them all sorts of incredibly useful ammunition in their lives. But if men don’t read it, the world won’t change. And in fact, I had very long arguments with my publisher about the design of it, actually not the American design, but the British design, which is completely different. And they kept coming up with these sort of very gentle pastel colors. And I said, No, it needs to be bold, it needs to be graphic, it needs to look almost like a men’s deodorant advertisement, you know, and we had a long argument about whether I should call myself Mary Ann Scott on the cover or make cut. And it would have been a sort of an in-joke, you know, a sort of meta point to call myself Emma, like J.K. Rowling say. But it would have got more men to read the book, because the tragedy is that we women will read roughly 50, 50 books written by men and books written by women.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Men, on average, it’s 8020. So that means they will read four books by a man for every book by a woman. And this is part of the problem. And you asked me earlier why I decided to write this book. Of course, it’s been annoying me all my life, but actually the reason I decided to write it now was that I felt that I had earned my spurs in a man’s world because I’ve spent most of my life being a political columnist, business journalist and a political journalist, stereotypically male world. And I’d earned my spurs enough there for men to take this sort of book seriously now. And in fact, in the Sunday Times in London, which is the equivalent of The New York Times, it was the Book of the Week. It was the first book reviewed that week by a man. And he said, I warmly recommend this book to other men. And I thought, Oh, my life is complete. That was what I really wanted to happen.

Carol Cox:
Oh, well, I’m really glad to hear that. And that that that’s the hopeful part that gives me hope as we kind of read through this book and learn about these different things. And so I’m going to pull out a couple more sections from the book. So you talk about, I love this phrase, lip service, feminism, and that as women we have unconscious biases, just like men do because we all grow up in the patriarchy, that’s all, how we’re socialized and collateralized. And I know that I myself have had to be more intentional about seeking out women authors for nonfiction books and women’s voices and the podcast I listen to, especially in the politics and news avenues. And so can you tell us a little bit about what you found regarding the biases that we all have regarding women’s authority?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Yes, as you say, we’ve all grown up in the patriarchy. We’ve probably most of us grown up in a family in which our father earned more, probably worked more, maybe had more authority at home than our mother. And we’ve all grown up in a world in which even now men are still basically in charge. And quite a lot of men, when I talk about this book, say to me, Oh, that’s just out of date, it’s all over now. We’ve got lots of women in top jobs. Well, A, we don’t have nearly as many women as men in top jobs still, you know, three times as many men in Congress as women, for instance. And I think in the Fortune 500, it’s still more than 90% male CEOs. So, you know, once we get to 5050, I concede that we’ve got rough gender inequality at the top. But the point I’m making is that it’s not just getting women into these jobs. It’s changing the way that we perceive and react to and interact with women. That’s what we have to do, because at the moment, as I say, our default assumption is that a man knows what he’s talking about until he proves otherwise. Whereas for a woman, it’s all too often the other way around. And women have this bias, as well as men because of the world that we’ve been brought up in. So I made a radio program actually about women’s bias against women, and I asked the listeners to imagine a hijacker bursting into a cockpit of a plane and attacking the pilot.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
And then I said, Now, how are you picturing the pilot? I bet you’re thinking of a white, middle aged man. And a woman called Margaret Oates tweeted, she said, driving home in uniform. I was listening to this program on the radio and yes, I pictured a white, middle aged pilot despite being a female pilot. And that just shows how ingrained it all is. And so we all have to question our biases. I mean, they’re unconscious. They’re called unconscious for a reason. We don’t do it on purpose. We don’t when we’re walking up to a man and a woman standing together, automatically address the man first on purpose. We do it because it’s programmed into us, and so we can’t put a lid on it and we shouldn’t feel ashamed of it because there’s nothing we can do about it but we can correct for it once it manifests itself. So I’m just asking people to be more aware, listen as attentively to the women around the table as to the men. If you find yourself interrupting women more than men, just stop it. If you look on your bookshelves and find that there are many more books by men than by women, you can change that very easily. If you use Twitter and you find that you’re following many more men than women, you can change that very easily. There are all sorts of things that we can do almost instantly to change this, but if we’re not aware of it in the first place, we won’t.

Carol Cox:
Yeah, excellent. Excellent suggestions. Mary and I really appreciate those. And I love that you’ve interviewed so many women leaders, so global women leaders, as well as career women career professionals and even women college students. So younger women as well to kind of get the breadth of their experiences. And I remember the one story about I think it was Pope John Paul, the second who went to meet the president of Ireland. Can you share that story?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Okay. Yeah. So it was Mary McAleese and she was president of Ireland and she led a delegation to the Vatican to meet the pope. So incredibly formal occasion, state visit. And there she is in the audience room with her delegation lined up next to her. And the pope comes in flanked by his cardinals to be introduced to the president. And he walks straight past her, sticks out his hand to her husband. Instead, he’s standing next to her and says, Wouldn’t you prefer to be president of Ireland rather than married to the president of Ireland? Unbelievable. The delegation was stunned. It was so rude and such a breach of protocol. So her husband knew better than to take the bait. And Mary McAleese grabbed the pope’s hand, which was hovering in mid-air, brought it back to herself and said, let me introduce myself. I am the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, elected by the people of Ireland. Whether you like it or whether you don’t.

Carol Cox:
Oh, I love that. Because she just took control back, which is why she was probably elected president, because she had that fortitude, that sense of agency. So that was the other thing I wanted to to talk about, because I found this a fascinating part of your book. I have heard a little bit about this, but not in quite the depth that you went into it. The difference between communality and agency and how women are supposed to have certain attributes versus men. Can you describe those for us?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Yes. This is so important. So I think this is. One of the reasons for the authority gap, which is that men on average appear more confident than women do and therefore more confident in their opinions. And therefore, when they express themselves, we’re more likely to accord them authority than when women do, if they’re going to sound a bit more hesitant and tentative. But the problem is the answer to that might well be, oh, women should just lean in. More women should just be more confident. We should just send them all on assertiveness training courses and the problem will be solved. Sadly, it’s nothing like that simple. And the reason is we have very old fashioned stereotypes for how women and men ought to behave. They’re very prescriptive as well as descriptive. It’s not just how women and men do behave, but how they ought to behave. And it’s particularly prescriptive for women themselves. So women in social psychologist terms are supposed to show communality, they’re supposed to be communal. And that means being very kind and gentle and warm and nurturing and unselfish and assertive and unthreatening and unself promoting and uncompetitive. And men are expected to take charge and be confident and assertive and dominant and show leadership. The trouble is that a woman acts in a traditionally feminine way according to the stereotype.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
No one’s going to take her seriously at all. She’ll barely open her mouth in a meeting, and if she does, she’ll sound so tentative that people will just dismiss her. But if she does start acting as confidently and as assertively as her male colleagues will quite often recoil from her. We won’t like it. We’ll use words about her, such as abrasive or strident or she’s very aggressive. She’s quite bossy, she’s overbearing, she’s scary. And these are all words that are never used of men showing exactly the same character traits which social psychologists call showing agency or being a genetic. And so either a woman isn’t confident enough, in which case she’s disrespected or she is confident enough in which case she’s disliked. And you might say, well, who cares if you’re disliked? Women just grow thicker skin. Actually, the trouble is that the evidence shows that likability is a much more important factor for women when it comes to hiring and promotion than it is for men, particularly if it’s men doing the hiring. So how do we unravel this? How do we find our way through this incredibly narrow path between being under confident and disrespected, confident enough and disliked? There is a way of doing it. And almost all the women I interviewed for the book said that what they try to project is warm authority.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
So what you have to do is you have to ladle oodles of warmth over your personality in order to mitigate any dislike that you might otherwise attract for being confident and being assertive and showing agency. So we have to smile a lot. Here I am, smiling as I’m talking to you. You’re smiling back, you know. It’s just unconscious, isn’t it? We smile a lot. We use humor to try to leaven any sort of instruction or any sort of assertiveness. We have to read the room incredibly carefully, be very emotionally intelligent, be very careful not to dent any male egos. And it’s exhausting. And it’s a burden that men simply don’t have to bear. But it’s the only way through for us. Tragically, I mean, I hate having to say this because it makes it sound like, you know, we’re having to be inauthentic in order to live with the patriarchy. And I don’t like that at all. But on the other hand, the world is what it is, and I like to see it as a transitional tactic. And perhaps once we got enough women in charge and enough women sharing agency, it will become less incongruous to us, less dis likeable, and we’ll be able just to be ourselves.

Carol Cox:
Mary Ann Yes, I’m totally with you about feeling kind of like the first of all, exhausting was the word that came to mind when you were describing what we have to do as women, like layer this this warmth over our competence and our leadership skills. And then so a couple of thoughts. One thing is that so we’re two white women having this conversation. I know you address it in this in the book for black women and women of color, they even have the extra thing that they have to deal with racism as well as dealing with sexism and misogyny. And so what they have to do code switching all the time in order to for them to try to fit in into our kind of white supremacist society. And as women now we have to kind of do the same thing code switch to try to make sure that we fit in to the kind of the patriarchal dominated society that we live in. And so in your book, what other research or findings did you discover regarding black women and women of color and some of the things that they have to do in addition to what we have to do as white women?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Okay. Interestingly, in one sense, it works in their favor because our stereotypes of black women are that they are confident and feisty and sassy. All these words that are often used stereotypically of black women, they can actually show agency more easily than white women can without us recoiling. So that goes in their favor. But in almost every other aspect, the authority gap is wider still for women of color than it is for white women. And in fact, every step away from the middle class white male default makes the authority gap wider. So race, class, disability, to some extent sexuality, they’re not always makes the authority gap wider. And so women of color do have to deal with other stereotypes that are layered on to the gender stereotypes. So, for instance, the angry black woman. So if a black woman makes a perfectly legitimate fuss about something, suddenly she’s the angry black woman. Even Michelle Obama was called an angry black woman right at the beginning to remember. She’s now one of the most popular women in the US and she had to fight that stereotype or the submissive Asian woman.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
So if an Asian woman makes a fuss over, that’s going against stereotype. We don’t like that. It makes us feel uncomfortable. And then, of course, you have the problem that if suppose a brilliant woman of color gets appointed to a senior position, people will say, Oh, she was just a diversity hire. Now, of course, that happens to women in general, but it happens even more to women of color. So it is a lot harder for women of color. It’s a lot harder for women with disabilities. It’s harder for working class women. Having the wrong accent, of course, makes you makes people take you less seriously and accord you less authority with sexuality. It goes in both directions. So some lesbian and bisexual women say that they have it harder at work than straight women. On the other hand, other academic studies show that they are allowed to sort of get away with more masculine behavior, more tick behavior, because people expect lesbians to be more masculine in their character traits and straight women, and therefore, sometimes they get punished less for it.

Carol Cox:
Hmm. So, Mary Ann, all right. This is again, I find this so fascinating. It reminds me also right now here in the US, Joe Biden is selecting the next Supreme Court nominee and it’s a black woman. And of course, there’s been a bunch of uproar on the other side of the spectrum from the Republican Party about that, because claiming that she’s only been nominated because she’s a black woman versus all of the credentials that she has, which is on par with the other Supreme Court nominees that there have been. So as I mentioned, I’m working on a book right now related to women as public speakers and as thought leaders and so so in line with the work that you have done. So that’s why I’m so appreciative of talking to you. And you mentioned about this was towards the beginning of the book, maybe in the first or second chapter. Is that the gap between men and women in the public sphere, you know, just like this idea of what the public sphere is and why it’s so important for women to what I call it, to have equal but also safe access. The public sphere. And by safe, I mean because we get so much backlash and criticism when we do put ourselves out there, whether it’s opinions or just putting out whatever our expertise is, we get backlash, whether it’s professionally in our careers as public speakers, and then, of course, on social media. So what are your thoughts regarding the public sphere and how do you define it, especially around the work that you’ve been doing?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
I mean, the public sphere is anywhere where you have a public conversation outside the home, I would say, and there is an authority gap and a lot of relations, straight relationships in the home as well. And I do beg men to respect their female partners equally and to and to have equal authority in the home, because I think that will bring up a a better generation, new generation of children into the world. But what I’m mainly writing about is work and outside the family. And, you know, you talk about the backlash against women in the public sphere. And honestly, this was the most distressing chapter I had to write because it is women are 27 times more likely to be abused online than men, 27 times, not 27% or 20 700% more. This was an academic study which put anonymized people into internet forums and randomly assigned the male or female names. But they said the same thing and if they had a female name, they were 27 times more likely to be abused. And I’m sure in the US, certainly in the UK, female politicians, any any female in real, genuine public life gets the most appalling abuse on social media. And not just abuse, but rape threats, death threats, doxing telling people where they live, saying, I’m going to throw a bomb over, you know, I’m going to put a petrol bomb through your front door at 11:00 tonight. And I want to see you and your children burn. You know, that sort of thing happens to women in public life, not to men in public life. And these sickos are just trying to impose attacks on us speaking out in the public sphere. But what’s even more depressing, in a way, is that it’s not just these famous women who get this sort of thing. It could be a 13 year old girl putting up a YouTube video about braiding her hair and she’ll get a rape threat in the comments section. I mean, how sick do you have to be to want to do that? It’s really.

Carol Cox:
Horrible. Wow, it is. I did not realize 27 times more abuse online that women face. And so then my next question becomes why? Like, you know, why, why, why? What is the like the deeper reason? Yes, we can say that patriarchy. But what is it that men socialised, you know, brought up in our societies? What is it that they’re so afraid of irrelevancy? Because if women are seen as equal to men, like what? What at their core, I know this is turning into psychology’s discussion. Maybe it’s a little bit different, but do you have any any hypotheses about this?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
I think that men are scared, not of us being equal, but of us being superior. So when they start to lose male privilege, they feel not levelled, but flattened. That’s what they’re scared of. And and I keep saying, as a feminist, all I want is equality between the sexes. I mean, I’m genuinely worried about how white working class boys in Britain are falling behind at school. And I think we should do something about that, because I think that there should be equality between the genders. So and I’m also worried about how many young men kill themselves compared with young women. But to be a feminist just means you want equality. It doesn’t mean you want female supremacy. But I think men are terrified that what we’re going to end up with if we just start appointing on merit is female supremacy. I mean, I had a fascinating conversation with a former editor of mine at The Times when I was writing this book. And he said from a position of complete ignorance, he said, Oh, your thesis is completely out of date and started telling me where I’d gone wrong. And I thought, How funny does he not notice the irony that he is displaying the very behaviour that I’m writing about, which is challenging my expertise from a position of less expertise than me. Anyway, so what he said was, Oh, women are getting all the top jobs these days. He said, I sit on lots of appointment boards and appointment panels for boards and we only ever appoint women. Now it’s impossible for a man to get on a board these days. So I said, I think you’ll find that’s not the case. He said, No, no, no, believe me, I know about this. So the next day, by chance, I got my monthly email from a boards organisation that told me who had been appointed to boards in the previous month. And it was 20 men and 19 women. But he saw that as men not having a chance anymore.

Carol Cox:
You mentioned that some of the pushback that you got when you initially started talking about this idea, the authority gap, is that, oh, it’s outdated. We must be beyond that now because, look, there’s women’s women in positions of leadership and power in different areas, and yet that’s not necessarily the case, as we know. And so, Mary Ann, I know you’ve talked to some transgender individuals and their experiences, so can you share a little bit about that and what they found?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Yeah, sure. And there’s actually a huge amount of academic evidence to prove the existence of the authority gap. But what I found so fascinating talking to these people is that they are the most brilliant scientific experiment to prove the existence of the authority gap. Because normally as a woman, suppose you are, say, up for promotion against a male colleague and he gets it and you don’t. And you may suspect that bias was at play, but it’s terribly hard to prove because he might just genuinely be better than you. But if you’ve talked to a trans person who has lived as both a man and a woman, what you’re doing is you’re controlling for all the other variables and isolating the one that matters, which is gender, because they’re exactly the same person with the same ability and intelligence and experience and personality and body of work. And if the only thing that has changed is their gender and they’re treated completely differently as a result of that, I think that proves the existence of gender bias and the authority gap. So I tell the story in the book of two middle aged Stanford science professors who each transitioned in opposite directions at the same time by chance. Then Barry is a neuroscientist. Once he started living as a man, he said, I’ve had this thought a million times. I’m just taken more seriously now. My work is taken more seriously. The same damned work, as he put it, is taken more seriously now. Now that I’m living as a man and someone who didn’t know his history was overheard at the back of one of his seminars saying, Oh, Ben, Boris gave a great seminar today. But then his work so much better than his sisters are his own work.

Carol Cox:
Oh, my.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Goodness. Yeah. And meanwhile, Joan Ruth Gordon, who is an evolutionary biologist, transitioned in the opposite direction. And she said when she was living as a man, she felt like she was just on this conveyor belt to success. She said everything was so easy for her. She got promoted very fast. She got paid really well. She spoke, people listened, and she was treated with great respect. Once she started living as a woman, she said all that changed and she came up against all the authority gap behaviour that I’ve been talking about, you know, being interrupted, being dismissed, being challenged, being patronised, being underestimated. And she said to start with I thought, well, if I’m going to live as a woman, I’m damn well going to be discriminated against like a woman. And then she said, Well, the thrill of that sworn off, I can tell you. And her conclusion was men are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise and women are assumed to be incompetent until proven otherwise. And this may sound very anecdotal. It’s just the experience of two people. But actually scientists have replicated this in much bigger studies of trans men and women. The trans men say, Oh my God, life is so much easier now that people see me as a man and I’m just respected so much more and I’m taken more seriously. And trans women find the opposite and say they had no idea how much sexism there was against women until they started living as one.

Carol Cox:
Thank you so much for sharing that, Marianne, and for including that in your book.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
You’re welcome.

Carol Cox:
So let me ask you this, Marianne, of everything that you were you were discovering and all the interviews you did for writing this book, what surprised you the most?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
I think what surprised me the most was I was expecting younger men to be much less biased than older men. And my assumption was that. Give it another few generations and we won’t be talking about this anymore because we won’t need to. And all I wanted to do was just hurry it up a bit. And what surprised and depressed me was that this isn’t the case. And you would have thought that these millennials and Gen Zs, whose antennae are so acutely attuned to racism, to homophobia, to transphobia, would be just as sensitive when it comes to sexism. Sadly, they’re not. So one study was done of thousands of people in lots of different countries asking them their attitudes towards women in leadership. And our women are suited to men at, say, political leadership. And young men were more sexist on these questions than older men were. And then another study I cite is of was done with biology students. So 19, 20, 21 year olds at college and they were asked to identify who were the smartest and best informed members of their class. And they were asked this question several times during the course of an academic year. And the young women were completely accurate in identifying the smartest and best informed members. The young men almost uniformly nominated other men, even when the women were better. And this bias actually increased during the course of the year. The more exposure they had to these smart and well informed women, the less they wanted to admit that they were any good.

Carol Cox:
Hmm. Wow. That is a surprising finding and very depressing at the same time. So, Mary Ann, my next question was, what are we optimistic about? Like, what can we not be optimistic about regarding this? And I know you have it. Your last section in the book is about what we can do individuals, teachers, employers, etc.. So what are some things that we can start doing?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Yes, I counted the other day there are 140 suggestions, solutions in the back of the book, which are far too many for me to enumerate now. But the reason there are so many is a this affects every aspect of our lives, wherever we live and whatever we do. And B the authority gap itself is an accumulation of small acts of behavior, which none of them at the time a career ending. They’re very annoying. You know, you try to make a point to meeting and someone just talks over you. It’s very annoying, but it’s it’s not final. But they roll up like compound interest over the course of a lifetime. They accumulate to create this enormous gap between women and men when it comes to achievement and and opportunity. And therefore, I think the solutions also have to be small but will roll up in a positive way to narrow the gap. And so it is very important to recognize, as I said at the beginning, that we all harbor this unconscious bias, however liberal or intelligent or even female we are, we harbor this unconscious bias. And the first thing we absolutely have to do is admit it, be aware of it, try to correct for it. Otherwise, what are the other 139? I mean, I don’t know where to begin. I think one really important one actually is not to mistake confidence for competence, because they’re absolutely not the same thing. And there are so many reasons why men on average are more confident than women. For a start, they don’t come up against all this behavior of being constantly undermined or undermined, as I call it, constantly talked over, challenged, not listened to, patronized, underestimated. They don’t get that. And if you do get that, of course, it’s going to dent your confidence. If every time you speak up at a meeting, people just knock down your hypothesis.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Of course you’re going to start feeling less confident about yourself. So the way we treat it in adulthood makes us less confident. The way we treated in childhood also makes us less confident. So to start with, this really depresses me. A study asked parents to estimate the IQ of their children, and they estimated their boys on average at 115 and their girls at only 107. Despite the fact that girls develop faster than boys, have a bigger vocabulary than boys do much better at school than boys all the way from kindergarten right up to PhD level. They outperform boys, and yet parents are believing that their sons are cleverer than their daughters, and therefore sons are going to subliminally absorb this notion that they’re cleverer than their sisters, and girls are going to subliminally absorb exactly the same notion. And in fact, the same researchers asked adults to estimate their own IQs, and the men on average put them at 110 and the women had only 105, despite the fact we know that IQ is identical between men and women, except at the very end of the IQ spectrum, and therefore men are more likely to be overconfident of their ability and women are more likely to be under confident. So if we take people at their word, we’re going to be hiring and promoting men faster than we do women, which is exactly what happens at the moment. Even though the man may be overconfident of his ability and not actually all that competent, and the woman may be under confident, but super competent. And that is just such an important thing to understand, is why we end up with so many mediocre men at the top of organizations and so few women.

Carol Cox:
Yes, Mary Ann, and again, I appreciate all of the suggestions that you have in the book. And I, again, highly recommend listeners to, of course, get your book and then go through those suggestions as well. And I think awareness is almost like I liken it to meditation. Meditation, the practice of meditation is not that your thoughts are going to go away and your mind is not all of a sudden going to be empty of thoughts is that you notice the thoughts much quicker and you notice your reactivity much quicker than you would before. And I feel like it’s the same thing with unconscious biases. It’s almost like the practice of making them less unconscious and more conscious so that we can almost stop whatever our instinctual behavior is before. For it goes further.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
That’s right. I mean, even I find myself doing this and I’ve written a whole book about it. So I might hear perhaps a young woman being interviewed on the radio, and perhaps she’s got quite a high voice and sounds a bit childish in the way that men can’t because their voices break. And my first reaction will often be, Oh, I wonder if she knows what she’s talking about. And I’ll go, No, stop it. Listen to the content of what she’s saying, and don’t judge her by the pitch of her voice. But if you’re not aware of yourself doing this in the first place, you’re never going to correct for it. So that would be my overarching recommendation. There are all sorts of other recommendations there for colleagues, for employers, for parents, for partners, teachers, for the media, for governments. I don’t suppose you want me to go through them all, but I’m going to pick one.

Carol Cox:
Well, I think I think the starting with the awareness is, like you said, step number one. And I also want to to make sure to talk about public speaking in this as well. And so let’s go ahead and do that. So, Mary Ann, I imagine that as well as a journalist and you said you host a a radio programme and then now as an author, you must go on the speaking circuit to promote your book. Maybe, probably things are a little bit different now because of COVID than they would have been pre-pandemic. But I guess share with us what what types of public speaking engagements do you most enjoy doing? What do you look forward to? What types of audiences, that kind of thing?

Mary Ann Sieghart:
I generally really like public speaking, having been nervous when I was younger. I now enjoy it a lot more. And it’s so much just to do with practice, isn’t it? The more you do it, the less terrifying it is. On the other hand, I find I’m doing a lot of talks and sort of fireside chats to talk about the authority gap, and I find myself gravitating much more towards the fireside chat the in conversation with than the 40 to 45 minute lecture with slides. I can do the 45 minute talk, but I find it sort of depleting because you’re constantly on transmit. You have to inject so much energy into it and you know that it’s harder for the audience to take in than if they’re witnessing a conversation between two people. And so I generally say to the organisers, I’m happy to give a talk, but I think the audience will prefer a conversation because it’s somehow easier on the ear and sometimes on the eye to be watching and listening to two people talking than to be lectured at. And I say to them, I can get exactly the same material across in the sort of conversation I’m having with you here, for instance, as I would if I were giving a speech. But I think it’s less exhausting on both sides. I don’t know whether you agree.

Carol Cox:
Carol Yes. And I’m so glad you mentioned this, Marianne. This is the premise of of the book is really taking what we think of as a traditional model of public speaking and flipping it on its head to what I call more a feminist. But we could talk, describe it even as a more feminine mode of public speaking. So what I call the traditional mode of public speaking is very one way you as a speaker are giving information to the audience, and they’re just like a passive, passive receptacle to your information. So it’s one way is hierarchical. You’re very much above the audience and it’s very ego based. I’m the speaker. The spotlight’s on me. Everyone has to listen to me for 45 minutes versus this this new mode of public speaking. I think as women, we gravitate towards this just because we enjoy it so much better. The energy output we enjoy so much better is this two way, this dialogue. Maybe it is communality, because this is how we’re socialized. Like we want to make sure the audience is participating and getting and feeling a sense of what and being involved in what we’re talking about versus just passively receiving it.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
That’s right. You know, because I don’t care about the ego side of it at all. And and I feel that even if the audience, of course, I’ll get their Q&A at the end, but even if they’re just watching you asking me questions, they’re feeling as if you are representing the audience. And I hope that you’re asking the questions that are coming up in their head, too. So it does feel more engaged and less passive, doesn’t it?

Carol Cox:
Yes, it does. I’m so glad that you mentioned that. I’ll have to include this in my book. All right. All right, Mary Ann, so again, your book is called The Authority Gap. For all of you listening, please make sure. Then go and get this. I’ll include a link in the show notes so that you can go find it in Mary Ann. Where else can people connect with you? Where’s the best.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Place where they can go to the authority? Gatcombe, which is my website. I’m Mark Carter on Twitter and Mike Cartwright on Instagram and Marianne Scott on LinkedIn.

Carol Cox:
Fantastic. We’ll make sure to include all those links in the show notes. Mary Anne, thank you so much for your time today and coming on the Speaking Your Brand podcast.

Mary Ann Sieghart:
Oh, thank you, Kyra. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.

Carol Cox:
Thanks again to Mary Anne for coming on the podcast and for the very important work that she’s doing. Make sure to get her book called The Authority Gap. You can find it at your favorite bookseller. There’s also a link in the show notes page to the book page on her website. You can find the show notes for this episode in your podcast app or by going to speakingyourbrand.com slash to seven seven again that’s. Speaking Your Brand to 77. You can also download our free workbook on how to position yourself as a thought leader, because that’s one of the ways that we can get more women into positions of leadership and influence is by encouraging more of them to step into thought leadership. You can start doing that yourself and you can get our free workbook by going to Speaking Your Brand guide again. That’s Speaking Your Brand guide. Until next time. Thanks for listening.

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