A man has to say it

In the NYT “Week in Review” section yesterday, there’s a story by Adam Liptak on “The Waves Minority Judges Always Make”, about the U.S. Supreme Court. Along the way, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reported on her own situation:

Justice Ginsburg said her own influence in all sorts of cases at the justices’ conferences was uncertain. “I will say something — and I don’t think I’m a confused speaker — and it isn’t until somebody else says it that everyone will focus on the point,” Justice Ginsburg said.

The other people at these conferences were seven men and one woman, Sandra Day O’Connor (until early in 2006, when O’Connor retired from the court, after which the others were all men). So the effect Ginsburg was describing was almost surely a familiar one: it’s not on the floor until a man says it; a man has to say it before it will be attended to.

The effect is a facet of female invisibility, especially pronounced in professional settings when there are very few women in the group. My daughter, who fairly often is the only woman in such groups, has commented on the effect a number of times, sometimes with considerable annoyance.

I wonder if it has a name (something better than “a man has to say it” but not as broad as “female invisibility”).

3 Responses to “A man has to say it”

  1. Elizabeth Zwicky Says:

    I will note that there are other versions of this effect; in New Zealand, my local colleagues were at least as annoyed that suggestions were much more often heard if they came from an American. (Gender did not enter in here, apparently; I was as effective as any other American.)

    I will also note that one of my friends actually won a bet when a male co-worker denied the existence of this effect, and they tried an experiment where he simply repeated her suggestions in meetings, verbatim. He was stunned to discover that actually repeating her words directly after she said them still usually resulted in the idea being attributed to him.

  2. Chris Waigl Says:

    @Elizabeth: Very good you’ve done empirical tests of the phenomenon.

    From my own anecdotal experience, there seems to be a proximity effect to it: I find the effect much more common among people physically in the same meeting room than, say, on phone conferences or if discussion and decision happens via email.

    I wonder how much it contributes to the lack of women in the most senior positions. If good ideas are reassigned to men, they’ll tend to reap the benefits in the long run, too.

  3. Gary Says:

    Exactly the same effect happens to gay people all the time. When you’re the only gay person in a meeting, out or not, your suggestions disappear ito the void until one of the straight people validates them.

    I’m amazed that it happens at the SCOTUS level too.

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