I am a PhD student and often I will meet with my advisor and our collaborators. But they always do all the talking even though I am the only one writing code. And sometimes I will try to ask a question or make a suggestion and then half the time they will just talk over me.

I am wondering if this is because I am a woman, or because I am the only PhD student in the meeting, or if I am just not talking loud enough or something. I am also wondering if this would keep happening to me if I quit my PhD and worked at a male dominated software company, or if it is more specific to academia, and made worse by the fact that everyone I interact with is much more senior than me.

I have another project where both my collaborators are women and this never happens when I work with them.

  • 8
    It sounds like you are convinced that your problem stems from being female, however, I am not so sure about that; I have witnessed firsthand a fair amount of males who also have had similar difficulties in getting their voices heard in meetings.
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 19:32
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    Sadly, I think it may very possibly be related to the fact that you're a woman, although the other factors (your lack of seniority and loudness) also probably play a role. Certainly quiet/unassertive people in general are often at a disadvantage in today's society. Regardless of the reason, I suggest you try to find ways to work around these issues: either work on being more assertive, or adapt in some other way (e.g., come to the meeting with an amazingly well prepared written report/slide presentation/simulation, playing to your strengths of quietly getting things done), or both. Good luck!
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 19:36
  • 3
    I got out of a meeting with my PI, a MS student. The quiet MS guy didn't really manage to speak much. We got so into 'the zone', that we talked over each other, didn't really finished the sentences. Looked like a bar discussion, a sort of "mental shorthand" that the ms students isn't fluent in, or too shy to get into the 'idea throwing'. But the gender of the other participant doesn't really make much difference, I had meetings like that with women too, it was pretty much the same. I'd argue that the excitement throws manners out the window. Quiet people would get sidelined, unintentionally. Commented Nov 8, 2015 at 4:17
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    But they always do all the talking even though I am the only one writing code. — Sure, you are writing the code, but are you contributing novel research ideas?
    – Mad Jack
    Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 1:10

4 Answers 4


Why not write an email to your advisor with your concerns?

Women are not the only ones with this problem. Those fast-talkers maybe don't even realize they are leaving you out.

Here is a good book.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
It may help you understand your situation. But it's those other guys who need to read it, and probably won't.

When you get to a software company, it may get better. At least if it is large enough to have managers who are not merely former programmers who were promoted. One can hope that those with management training know about these things: The one with the loudest voice may not be the one with the best idea. And there are management practices that can make the best of all workers, whether they are fast-talkers or timid wall-flowers.


The problem may or may not be gender linked: there's a good chance that at least part what you are facing stems from implicit sexism, just based on the general tendencies in both academia and industry, but saying for certain would require more information.

Regardless of the source of the problem, however, it's a problem and it needs to be dealt with. I would recommend, however, focusing on the outcome you want to achieve (being welcomed as a participant in discussion) rather than the question of cause and intention. If you focus on the outcome, then you've got something objectively measurable, whereas if you focus on the cause then you may be opening things up for debate.

I would recommend starting your communication on the matter by email, for two reasons:

  1. With email, you can take time to edit your communication carefully, to deliver exactly the message you want. This is especially important if you're feeling hurt and upset, since many of us make communication choices that are not particularly productive when feeling that way.
  2. It creates a record, which may be useful later if your advisor disregards you.

If your advisor responds sympathetically, then you can move on to the question of how best to address your concerns. Just knowing that the problem is happening may be enough. More likely, though, you and your advisor may want to add some "helper" structures that can help break up the pattern that is currently happening, such as having you give short presentations or having you raise your hand to signal when somebody is talking over you and needs to show more respect.

If your advisor dismisses your concerns, on the other hand, then I think it would be time to consider switching advisors, especially given the difference of experiences you've had elsewhere.

  • 3
    I find that when writing emails when I am hurt or upset, it is best to write it and then not send it until the following day. The first draft, for me, is usually either angry or passive aggressive. The email the next day is usually pretty level-headed. Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 13:52

The gender aspect is relevant in this situation, one way or the other, because it is only natural for you to wonder if it's a factor, and because it seems to be making it extra challenging for you to assert yourself and jump into the discussion.

In terms of software companies -- there often seems to be a critical threshold of female software engineers per group, for an incoming woman to be comfortable. (I mean the larger group, as in 30-40 people, not the little cell of people who work together on a daily basis.) When you interview for a job, make sure you get an opportunity to speak informally with a couple of female members of the larger group (but not in front of a male host) to get a feel for what it's like there.

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    +1: I'd also recommend this for females interviewing at or visiting PhD programs. (1) It is a factor that can greatly affect one's well being and productivity as a PhD student and (2) It signals to departments that they need to think about gender equity in the future if they expect to attract the best applicants Commented Nov 9, 2015 at 13:58

There is probably a mix of factors involved, but many studies are backing you here: women are more interrupted than men, even by women.

Here is a news article that points to many interesting studies : http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/03/19/google-chief-blasted-for-repeatedly-interrupting-female-government-official/

This is mostly an unconscious bias, so most probably if you step up very clearly (saying "I am talking now, please don't interrupt"), everybody will listen.

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