I wish I could tell Donald Trump to 'shut up, man' too

Kamala Harris was more civil to her debate opponent last week than Joe Biden, but as working women everywhere will recognise, she had little choice.

by Orianna Rosa Royle
Last Updated: 13 Oct 2020

I remember the first time in my career that I was interrupted by a man. Two weeks into my first full-time role and brimming with ideas, not long after opening my mouth to share them in a meeting I was abruptly met with a hand floating inches from my face. 

At another organisation I was met with blank stares when I shared my idea. Moments later, a younger and less experienced male colleague repeated my idea and was met with praise. Despite calmly saying, “yes, I just suggested that”, he was empowered to bring the (or rather, my) idea to life. While feeling robbed, I bit my tongue. 

I look back and wonder why I didn’t truly vocalise my anger.

On Wednesday night's US Vice Presidential debate Kamala Harris calmly lifted her hand up to current VP Mike Pence after one too many interruptions, and said: “Mr Vice President, I’m speaking.”

It’s in stark contrast to Joe Biden, who after being interrupted by Donald Trump (no less than 71 times), snapped: “Will you shut up, man?”

Harris's composed approach in the fight to be heard was all too familiar and quite applaudable. Even so, I envied Biden.

Because while shouting at an opponent might make Biden look a bit childish (a tough feat when standing next to Trump), for Harris it could have been career ending. 

Studies show that women who assert themselves when in confrontation at work face backlash: Women are both penalised more harshly than men who speak out of turn and seen more negatively. 

And black women face a double whammy because research suggests that to be seen as an equally valid member on a team and to enjoy the same career opportunities as their white counterpart, they need to be “twice as good”.

Trying to avoid tropes of looking hysterical, aggressive and bitchy also limits women's professional progression. In a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't, women who try to take a more conciliatory approach to confrontation are often overlooked.

But by being aware of the gender inequality in speaking up, leaders can foster an environment in which women have the psychological safety to not have to remain cool, calm and collected when faced with microaggressions in the workplace. 

Image credit: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

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