Servant Leadership Workplace-Listening Women

5 Ways to Listen Better to Women at Work

Is there a double standard in the ways we listen to men and women at work?

The evidence suggests there is. That’s the point Google COO Sheryl Sandberg (author of Lean In) and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant (author of Give and Take) make in “Speaking While Female,” a piece they co-authored in The New York Times.*

Should servant-leaders work to rid their workplaces of this double standard? Absolutely! Indeed, a single standard is a natural outcome of servant leadership

“We’ve seen it happen again and again,” Sandberg and Grant write. “When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women decide that saying less is more.”

Which is too bad. This chilling effect harms organizations by depriving them of valuable ideas and the top performance that comes from a fully-integrated team.

This issue is of special concern to anyone aspiring to be a better servant-leader.**

Valuing people and listening are hallmarks of servant leadership. As such, servant-leaders are first among those ensuring their workplaces are bastions of better listening. How do we listen better in the workplace and reduce the gender bias related to listening? Here are 5 ways to listen better to women at work.

1. Develop protocols that provide everyone a full opportunity to speak. Sandberg and Grant highlight one leader’s “no interruption rule” – no team member was allowed to speak while another was pitching an idea – as a promising practice.

2. Level the playing field for ideas. Collect ideas in advance of discussion so team members aren’t chilled or biased by open discussion. Share the ideas anonymously and ask team members to comment. Find ways to evaluate the idea, not the person who presented the idea.

3. Court the quiet. Ensure that everyone in your group is provided a platform for sharing their perspective. Go around the table methodically and make sure everyone has a chance to participate. Speak privately with those who are not naturally vocal in group settings.

4. Value minority opinions and dissenting views. Don’t just tolerate dissenters, encourage them. Affirm people for sharing their unique ideas and perspectives while creating environments that welcome all opinions.

5. Foster diversity of the team. Sandberg and Grant conclude, “As more women enter the upper echelons of organizations, people become more accustomed to women’s contributing and leading.” Servant-leaders foster diversity and gender equity in the workplace, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it leads to greater organizational success.

What do you think? What else might a servant-leader do to besure everyone is heard at work? We welcome your ideas.

Let us know.

As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks!


And download our latest ebook, Servant Leadership in the Workplace: A Brief Introduction. It’s free!


*Here is the link: “Speaking While Female” from The New York Times, January 12, 2015.

** Here are some other posts on listening you might like:

6 Things Listening Communicates

15 Great Quotes About Listening

Servant Leadership – 3 Workplace Practices