On November 24 by Imogen Brennan for ABC News
The effectiveness of women in Australian Senate estimates hearings is being limited because they are given less time to speak and are more negatively interrupted than their male colleagues, a study has found.
Australia is currently ranked 54th in the world for the representation of women in parliament, behind countries like Afghanistan and Ethiopia.
Despite 39 per cent of Australian senators being female, the study found women experience unequal treatment because of masculine communication styles.
University of Canberra PhD candidate Joanna Richards investigated 10 years of records for her thesis, Let Her Finish: Gender, Sexism, and Deliberative Participation In Australian Senate Estimates Hearings.
She wanted to figure out exactly how much women were interrupted compared to their male colleagues, whether the nature of the interruptions were different and the reaction when women interrupted men.
Ms Richards said the information she uncovered was significant because a lack of uninterrupted speaking time for female senators meant they were being restricted from doing their jobs properly.
"You can't do your job as a politician if you don't have access to the speech floor," Ms Richards said.
Women punished more for interrupting
The study categorised interruptions into three types: positive, negative and defensive.
It found that while women interrupt more often in the Senate, their interruptions are usually positive, compared to their male colleagues' negative interruptions.
A positive interruption might be, for example, a statement of support or agreement.
A negative interruption is a distinct power play, trying to take the floor away from other speakers or decrease their credibility.
A defensive interruption is when a powerful speaker interrupts on behalf of a less powerful speaker who is already being interrupted.
"Women interrupt more," Ms Richards said.
"But when they interrupt, it's usually in defence, or positively in support of another female speaker or a less powerful speaker, whereas almost 75 per cent of the male interruptions were negatively trying to take power or take the floor from another speaker."
'Stop being emotional'
The research found female senators were also more often punished for interrupting.
"The chair was more likely to call women to account, whereas men got off with interrupting a lot lighter," Ms Richards said.
"Female witnesses [in Senate hearings] were called emotional, unreasonable, or words to that effect 163 times.
"Women received these kinds of comments 2.5 times more than their male counterparts ... these comments were majoritively issued by males, with 120 comments coming from male senators."
It's not as simple as 'man vs woman'
It was not just men negatively interrupting women in the Senate that Ms Richards took issue with.
She also found some women displayed masculine behaviour to "fit in" with the men.
"There's a high level of internalised misogyny in the political world because it benefits women to adopt masculine communication styles," she said.
"To be on the men's team means that one woman can get ahead, but not all women can get ahead.
"It's not a purely man versus woman situation ... it is considering the masculine environment of politics and the ability of a woman to stay in her own gendered communication style and succeed — whether that is possible."