Culture and Connection

Managing the mansplain

Emily Lawson
March 12, 2024
min read
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The term mansplaining is not merely a trending social media phenomenon, but a form of mistreatment that is pervasive in modern workplaces and needs to be addressed to ensure a safe environment for all.

‘Mansplaining' is when a man (or woman) offers an unsolicited explanation to someone in a condescending, overconfident, or oversimplified manner. This isn’t always intentional but can shut down and isolate a person in professional environments, making them feel unheard, overlooked, and inferior.

Having your competence questioned cuts into job satisfaction, confidence, and engagement and can make people feel like ‘an empty vessel to be filled with wisdom and knowledge’ rather than intelligent human beings.
  • Although mansplaining is often male-dominated, it is something women can do as well.
  • It can be guided by gender biases (e.g. men assuming women don’t know anything about sports/women assuming men don’t know anything about parenting).
  • Mansplainers are often oblivious to the problem, and with proper management can be corrected.
  • We tend to think about our experience from our perspectives, and mansplaining can occur when we voice that aloud by, intentionally or not, failing to ‘take into account others’ knowledge’ and/or ’what they have experienced.’

What is the difference between explaining and mansplaining

Mansplaining is characterised by assumptions, so when this is removed from the discussion, mansplaining can usually be avoided.

If someone asks you to explain something, or before going on a tangent you ask if they are across the topic, it can avoid awkward encounters and making others feel inferior. Keep in mind your tone and speak to your co-workers as equals no matter their position in the company.

The types of mansplainer

  • The condescending co-worker: This type of mansplainer is the typical one portrayed in the media. They feel entitled and speak down to people in a condescending tone to act superior. They believe they have the best idea on any given task or topic and are overconfident in defending their stance.
  • The clueless co-worker: This title belongs to that co-worker who believes they know everything (when in fact they often don’t). This becomes mansplaining when they don’t understand something in a conversation. Instead of asking what someone means or for them to elaborate, the mansplainer will continue discussing the topic on which they have limited knowledge. They will continue to talk with confidence rather than backing down and admitting they don’t know something.
  • The dominant co-worker: In conversation, this co-worker demands to be heard and likes to command conversations. They make others feel inferior by interrupting them in conversations and meetings, correcting them with their take on the topic.

How to manage the mansplain

If you have a mansplainer in your team and you are in charge, you have a responsibility to take action.

Creating a culture that is accepting of mistakes and encourages learning to avoid employees feeling like they must know everything and prove themselves over others. It is important to call out mansplaining when you hear it in the workplace and educate your team on why what they are saying is mansplaining.

Here are some ways to take action against mansplaining in a professional environment:

  • ‘Actually, Olivia knows a lot about this. Let’s hear from her.’
  • ‘ Let’s make sure we’re valuing everyone's expertise here. If someone has already covered the topic, please allow them to contribute without interruption.’
  • ‘I didn’t quite catch the end of Kate's point there.  Do you mind letting her finish?’

Remember, the goal is to create a culture where people feel confident to share ideas and learn from their mistakes. You want to ensure that all team members feel empowered to contribute without fear of being dismissed or overshadowed. If after calling out these behaviours, conversations aren’t changing, this is when you take the employee aside for a private discussion.

Additionally, here are some ways for your co-workers to stand up for themselves and educate others:

  • ‘Thank you for your input. I’m familiar with the concept you’re explaining, and I’ve got it covered. Let’s focus on the next steps in the project.’
  • ‘I’ve got this covered. If I need assistance or input, I'll be sure to ask. Let’s keep the discussion focused on the current agenda.’

The key is to assertively communicate their expertise and redirect the conversation without escalating tension. Professionalism is crucial to maintaining a positive and collaborative work environment. Often, the co-worker has no idea that what they are doing is wrong, so without highlighting it as an issue, this behaviour will continue.

It is important to be an ally to women in the workplace and to call out mansplaining, yet also uplift their voices so they have the space to contribute to conversations dominated by men. International Women's Day is usually full of cupcakes and Instagram posts but rarely expresses continued change.

As leaders, it’s your responsibility to make inclusivity and equality a yearlong activity and celebrate women in truly meaningful ways.  

Managing the mansplain
Emily Lawson