Handling “Manterruption” and “Bro-priating”… In the Oval Office

By: , Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP

Female businesswoman overhears conversation of colleagues

It seems there is no place immune from sex discrimination.  Even the Oval Office.

In an initiative called Women In Power, the WaPo is exploring how women “gain, consolidate and experience power in politics and policy.”

As reporter Juliet Eilperin explained (yesterday, in my old-school newspaper), life as a woman in Washington can be “challenging, frustrating, fantastic.”  To me, one of the most interesting aspects of this article is a tool that female presidential staffers implemented in the Oval Office called “amplification.”


Let’s check this out.

Eilperin writes:

When President Obama took office, two-thirds of his top aides were men. Women complained of having to elbow their way into important meetings. And when they got in, their voices were sometimes ignored.

So female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”:  When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This  forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.

 ‘We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,’ said one former Obama aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. Obama noticed, she and others said, and began calling more often on women and junior aides.”

Yes, these uber-educated, ambitious women had to basically play a trick at their place of work in order to receive positive recognition from their boss.

Business people at work

What’s wrong with this picture?! Why should women have to resort to such tactics?  Maybe, you think, the women were not being aggressive enough?

I don’t think so.

Y’all must know that I am no wallflower, but yesterday on a conference call with four male lawyers, the one man not a member of our illustrious firm tried to talk over me the entire time.  At one point, I raised my voice and said (ok, shouted), “Mike, I’m making a point here. Wait a minute.”

There are names for both of these phenomena experienced the other day by me and the female staffers.

One is called “manterruption.”

As last year’s New York Times article explained, manterruption is the unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man.

There’s also the concept of “bropriating,” i.e., taking credit for a woman’s ideas, like the male presidential staffers were (inadvertently or not) doing to the female presidential staff members.

Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg explained in her excellent op-ed why these behaviors are so damaging to women. She, along with Adam Grant, explained:

Almost every time the women started to speak, they were interrupted or shot down before finishing their pitch. When one had a good idea, a male writer would jump in and run with it before she could complete her thought.

Sadly, their experience is not unusual.

We’ve both seen it happen again and again. 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 often decide that saying less is more.

This is so not ok.   Yet it seems to happen A LOT.

Yes, yes, Amy, but how does this affect my business?

Now, I don’t know if these male staffers (or Mike) intended to talk over the female staffers (or me) or not. I’ll be fair.  It’s possible they didn’t even know they were manterrupting or bropriating.  But, if male employees do not realize they are edging female colleagues out with their behavior, it’s time to start learning.

What can you do?

TakeawayTraining, training, training!

Train your employees, supervisors, and managers so that they are not (again, inadvertently or not) treating female employees unfavorably. Sex discrimination in the workplace includes the unequal treatment of women based on their gender, so pay attention in those meetings next time and see who you’re crediting with ideas and who you’re giving the best projects and sales leads to.

If the impact of favoring or crediting your male employees over your female employees causes your female employees to achieve less compensation or promotion, you may very well have a problem—a charge of sex and pay discrimination.


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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]