How to handle manterruptions in an online meeting

by Nov 17, 2020

Are you being interrupted even during online meetings?

Online sessions allow men to mansplain, interrupt and dominate meetings even more. Learn how to handle manterruptions in an online meeting. 

Research shows that men dominate meetings in general, whether by interrupting their female colleagues or talking more in the discussion. The problem is so prevalent that there are apps such as Gender Timer to monitor the phenomenon. So why did we ever think manterruptions in an online meeting would be less than an in person meeting? After all there are mute buttons, isn’t that enough?

Apparently it isn’t.

Reports show that women are still struggling to be heard, even when their male colleague is sitting in his basement across town or at a kitchen table in a different country, and not even in the same room. What we are also seeing is that the problem is exacerbated. Online sessions allow men to mansplain, interrupt and dominate meetings even more and women are having to adjust, yet again, to make themselves heard.

manterruptions in an online meeting

Online meetings challenge for women

Cross-cutting banter, interruptions and hard to decipher non-verbal cues, means that for women virtual meetings replicate the same imbalance as face-to-face meetings. Research from Catalyst says that virtual meetings continue to highlight difficulties women experience making their point effectively in a group environment.

  • 45% of female leaders attest that “it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings,”  which is endorsed by by 42% of male leaders.
  • 20% of women reports feel “ignored and overlooked by co-workers during video calls,”


 7 tips to limit manterruptions in an online meeting:

1. Nominate a facilitator

Every meeting should have a facilitator, usually the person who called the meeting.  In the situation where it’s an informal meeting between colleagues, nominate one co-worker with agreed authority to maintain the ground rules. Rotate this role.

In a perfect world the facilitator would make things work correctly. But we don’t live in perfect worlds and very often facilitators are also men, so they are used to other men dominating (note perceived as leading) a discussion. Ideally speakers should have time limits.

If you run meetings make sure everyone has a voice.

 2. Have an agenda

Keep the manterruptor aligned with the agenda and insist they use the hands-up signal or chat when they wish to cut in to make a point. You can also use the private chat box to contact the leader of the meeting, or the group, when a speaker is going off topic and you wish to speak. Ideally let the meeting owner would know beforehand you want a slot on the agenda.

3. Tech fluent

Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown University professor of linguistics and author of “You just don’t understand” indicates in her research that men don’t just talk more, their voices are louder. This automatically puts the speaker in a position of authority.  We tend to see loud male speakers as being more assertive, forceful and leaderlike, while women who talk loudly experience gender push-back. They are considered to be “shrill” and “aggressive.”

Having a fully functioning microphone is now very important, so invest in an external mic if you think it will make a difference. They are not expensive. You don’t want your voice to be fading in and out, which can happen when online platforms overload or meetings become increasingly large.

Being fluent in online tech has taken on a whole new meaning and is about so much more than unmuting quickly and efficiently and using the chat function.

Take a look at our Lockdown Learning Program: Online Leadership Presence

4. Body language

Tannen also says that women are trained to take up less space, so strong posture and good camera positioning is important. Make sure your head and shoulders are central to the screen and you learn to look at the camera, not the images of the participants in gallery view. If you are not central to the screen you will struggle to be central to the discussion.

Stick a little post-it above your web cam to remind you. Lighting is important too, to make sure your face is clearly visible and not part of a shadowy background. Invest if you need to in a circle light that people use for selfies and podcasts. They too are not expensive.

Communication in a virtual meeting makes de-coding subtle non-verbal cues more difficult. So exaggerate your movements and make them intentional to indicate your wish to speak. Any hand movements should be side to side and within the frame of the screen. Wild extended movement comes across as being a bit manic.

5. Dress code

There has been much discussion on appropriate attire for online meetings, but looking professional will add to your authority. This doesn’t mean looking “sexy” or wearing make-up. It is of course annoying when your male colleagues have sprouted survivalist style beards with base ball caps glued to their heads. If your organisation has a drive to upgrade dress codes for those working from home, insist that it is for everyone.

6. Set boundaries

Women tend to be more thoughtful in all verbal communication especially meetings, pausing to make sure they are understood. This little gap allows the manterruptor to jump right in. Tannen says that  “women often feel that they don’t want to take up more space than necessary so they’ll often be more succinct,”  This naturally makes your on air time shorter and reduces your impact.

Use language such as “let me finish” or “you can speak when I’m done”  is still impactful in a virtual setting. Strong body language with palms facing outwards is also a good tactic to make sure your boundaries are clear, even on a screen.

7. Attentive listening

Listening also helps you speak. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s not!  One way to speak more without changing your style is to build on your listening skills by making a point of understanding recap. “If I have understood correctly Peter you are  saying…”   

As this pandemic looks set to last another six to nine months, it’s important that women redress the imbalance and learn how to handle  the any manterruptions in an online meeting

If you need further help with your Virtual Presence please get in touch with 3Plus today.


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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