Workplace

How Cisco is trying to stop mansplaining in meetings

Zoom-alternative Webex will tell participants if they've participated too much.

Webex video call

Webex is launching a new set of features aimed at promoting more equity and productivity in meetings.

Image: Webex

For many soon-to-be hybrid tech workers, videoconferencing is here to stay, and so are the nasty pain points that come with it. The inability to speak without being interrupted, ignored or spoken over is a common occurrence in the new remote workplace. Webex is working to solve for what many frustrated workers call "virtual mansplaining."

One in five women reported feeling ignored and overlooked by coworkers during video calls, according to a survey released in June 2020 by Catalyst, a nonprofit that works to promote women in leadership. 45% of women business leaders said they find it difficult for them to speak up in virtual meetings.

Cisco's Webex conferencing team is launching a new set of video meeting templates and features aimed at promoting more equity and productivity in meetings. Currently, employees are internally testing a videoconferencing feature referred to as "Round Table," designed to allow meeting organizers to set an allotted time for each participant to speak. When one attendee is speaking, everyone else on the call will be automatically muted — an advantage for women who report often being spoken over or ignored in meetings.

"We've been doing testing on that because it is a very large social change," said Lorrissa Horton, vice president and general manager of Webex Calling and Strategy at Cisco. "We do a lot of daily standup meetings, and in theory everyone's supposed to get a couple minutes to do their update, and yet many times certain people in that conversation never get a chance to speak or they're given the last 10 seconds. So the question was: How do we actually make it easier to force equity of time?"

Horton told Protocol the response thus far has been varied. Some people have been offended by being cut off mid-sentence when they've reached their allotted time.

The company also launched a background noise removal feature as another effort to make the remote workplace more equal. "This was around inclusion, [and] thinking through how do we let every single person come to work and be very professional even if they don't have a dedicated home office, even if they're working from that kitchen table?" said Horton.

Providing insights to employees to increase self-awareness is another part of the plan, according to Horton. Workers can learn whether they are frequently running late, how often they speak and how much time they spend multitasking during a meeting. Webex is now working on how to roll this aggregated data out to managers leading meetings. While it wouldn't show an individual breakout of who is multitasking in meetings, it would bring more awareness to productivity overall. This would enable the host of a meeting to know things like what percentage of people in the meeting are speaking out and whether one gender is speaking more than others. The company is focused on making it available more at an aggregated level so that it does not present privacy concerns, said Horton.

Physical gesture recognition, which already exists in Webex, is another inclusion feature aimed at creating equity in remote work. Webex recognizes a range of gestures like a raised hand or a thumbs-up and translates it to pop up on the screen.

Horton said she knows tools like "Round Table" might be uncomfortable for people who are forced to speak if they are not comfortable or ready to do so, but the goal, in addition to equity, is to train people to be more succinct.

"Not everyone is extroverted or going to try to jump in there and interrupt," Horton told Protocol. It's all about "accounting for folks that have a different style of communication, a different level of comfort and interrupting I think from a cultural standpoint."

SKOREA-ENTERTAINMENT-GAMING-MICROSOFT-XBOX
A visitor plays a game using Microsoft's Xbox controller at a flagship store of SK Telecom in Seoul on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: Nick Statt joins the show to discuss Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, and what it means for the tech and game industries. Then, Issie Lapowsky talks about a big week in antitrust reform, and whether real progress is being made in the U.S. Finally, Hirsh Chitkara explains why AT&T, Verizon, the FAA and airlines have been fighting for months about 5G coverage.

For more on the topics in this episode:

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

COVID-19 accelerated what many CEOs and CTOs have struggled to do for the past decade: It forced organizations to be agile and adjust quickly to change. For all the talk about digital transformation over the past decade, when push came to shove, many organizations realized they had made far less progress than they thought.

Now with the genie of rapid change out of the bottle, we will never go back to accepting slow and steady progress from our organizations. To survive and thrive in times of disruption, you need to build a resilient, adaptable business with systems and processes that will keep you nimble for years to come. An essential part of business agility is responding to change by quickly developing new applications and adapting old ones. IT faces an unprecedented demand for new applications. According to IDC, by 2023, more than 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed — the same number of apps that were developed in the last 40 years.[1]

Keep Reading Show less
Denise Broady, CMO, Appian
Denise oversees the Marketing and Communications organization where she is responsible for accelerating the marketing strategy and brand recognition across the globe. Denise has over 24+ years of experience as a change agent scaling businesses from startups, turnarounds and complex software companies. Prior to Appian, Denise worked at SAP, WorkForce Software, TopTier and Clarkston Group. She is also a two-time published author of “GRC for Dummies” and “Driven to Perform.” Denise holds a double degree in marketing and production and operations from Virginia Tech.
Policy

Congress’ antitrust push has a hate speech problem

Sen. Klobuchar’s antitrust bill is supposed to promote competition. So why are advocates afraid it could also promote extremists?

The bill as written could make it a lot riskier for large tech companies to deplatform or demote companies that violate their rules.

Photo: Photo by Elizabeth Frantz-Pool/Getty Images

The antitrust bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday and is now headed to the Senate floor is, at its core, an attempt to prevent the likes of Apple, Amazon and Google from boosting their own products and services on the marketplaces and platforms they own.

But upon closer inspection, some experts say, the bill as written could make it a lot riskier for large tech companies to deplatform or demote companies that violate their rules.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Workplace

Ask a tech worker: How many of your colleagues have caught omicron?

Millions of workers called in sick in recent weeks. How is tech handling it?

A record number of Americans called in sick with COVID-19 in recent weeks. Even with high vaccination rates, tech companies aren’t immune.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Welcome back to Ask a Tech Worker! For this recurring feature, I’ve been roaming downtown San Francisco at lunchtime to ask tech employees about how the workplace is changing. This week, I caught up with tech workers about what their companies are doing to avoid omicron outbreaks, and whether many of their colleagues had been out sick lately. Got an idea for a future topic? Email me.

Omicron stops for no one, it seems. Between Dec. 29 and Jan. 10, 8.8 million Americans missed work to either recover from COVID-19 or care for someone who was recovering, according to the Census Bureau. That number crushed the previous record of 6.6 million from last January, and tripled the numbers from early last month.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

The fast-growing paychecks of Big Tech’s biggest names

Tech giants had a huge pandemic, and their execs are getting paid.

TIm Cook received $82 million in stock awards on top of his $3 million salary as Apple's CEO.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Tech leaders are making more than ever.

As tech giants thrive amid the pandemic, companies like Meta, Alphabet and Microsoft have continued to pay their leaders accordingly: Big Tech CEO pay is higher than ever. In the coming months, we’ll begin seeing a lot of companies release their executive compensation from the past year as fiscal 2022 begins.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.
Latest Stories
Bulletins