How Not To Talk To Female Astronauts

A recent article in The Guardian from Laura Bates explores the ramifications of being a professional woman in contemporary society, especially one with an internet presence. 

Using a recent Twitter exchange as an entry point, Bates explores the recent spate of men explaining things to women who do not need such things explained. The phenomenon has its own portmanteau, "mansplaining", and it refers to the particular behavior of certain men who appear to be so confident in their own colloquial knowledge that they are willing to correct women with advanced degrees in certain subjects. Astronauts getting corrected about space thermodynamics, PhDs in astrophysics getting corrected about basic scientific assumptions, leaders of corporations being corrected on business policies; it seems that these things happen nearly every day. 

As the article says: 

Being corrected by less qualified men is a phenomenon reported by many women, particularly those with expertise in a male-dominated area. At the Everyday Sexism Project, we’ve heard from an IT worker whose less experienced male colleagues outline basic computer functions to her in meetings, an engineer who had a man try to explain solar panels to her and a woman who dealt with a customer slowly spelling out her own company policies to her while calling her “honey”.

In our work, we've encountered this as well. A female expert in environmental education was told by her male colleague, who happened to also report to her, that her analysis of soil samples was "okay for a girl" and then went on to "educate" (his term) her in front of colleagues. A successful business owner was offered help in her taxes by a neighbor who had no formal training in either business or tax accountancy. An international development expert was corrected about her political analysis of a country in which she has citizenship but the corrector had never been. 

From a team perspective, this can be a problematic behavior. If someone is being constantly corrected, especially if they have expertise in the subject area, then that person will be less inclined to participate in team functions. While "mansplaining" is criticized as a pejorative which only reinforces the gender imbalance, and has earned eye rolls and calls for it to be retired as a term, we have found it a present reality for many women. It is imperative that leaders be aware of this and make strides to end the practice, whoever is perpetrating it or whatever their gender may be.