The number of women sitting on corporate boards and holding voting positions on different governing bodies is on the rise. But a new study shows their voices aren’t being heard. Literally.
When it comes to making group decisions, women are not speaking up — at least not as much as the men.
Researchers at Brigham Young University and Princeton observed that, in most instances, women in a mixed-gender groups spoke significantly less in proportion to the men during group collaboration exercises.
But there was an exception: when groups were asked to reach a unanimous decision rather than a simple majority. Women spoke up just as much as men in those situations.
Researchers, whose work was published in the American Political Science Review, found that requiring a consensus was particularly empowering to the women.
The study observed 94 groups of at least five people. The task: to figure out how best to distribute money earned from a particular task. Groups deliberated for around 25 minutes and then voted by secret ballot. Some groups were told the majority opinion would decide how to distribute the pay. The other groups were told they had to reach a consensus. It’s in the latter groups where women spoke up as much as men.
This study seems to show that women are more comfortable speaking up — and trying to persuade others — when everyone needs to agree, not just a majority (or when it looks like they may never go home … reaching consensus can take forever!). What’s going on?
Co-author of the study Tali Mendelberg of Princeton thinks these women aren’t viewing themselves as influential.
It seems especially true when it becomes necessary to form coalitions or teams, where conflict isn’t resolved. Rather, there’s a clear winner and loser.
And that should be a concern. We’re getting more women elected to offices, but very few governing bodies hinge on consensus.
“In school boards, governing boards of organizations and firms, and legislative committees, women are often a minority of members and the group uses majority rule to make its decisions,” Mendelberg said. “These settings will produce a dramatic inequality in women’s floor time and in many other ways. Women are less likely to be viewed and to view themselves as influential in the group and to feel that their ‘voice is heard.’”
So how do we bring up this next generation of girls to speak up? To not worry about getting everyone to agree but just enough? What makes boys (and eventually, men) feel so comfortable sharing their opinions and dividing to conquer more than women? Are girls in enough situations as youngsters to get a little practice speaking up and not getting their way — or agreeing to openly disagree with their colleagues without it meaning too much?
Jezebel’s Lindy West wants women to take a pledge to speak up and speak loudly. I’m all for that. As for our girls, maybe we can retire words like “bossy” and “princess-y,” which seem exclusively used on assertive girls and morph into another b-word as the girl gets older. Let’s see what we can do to support assertiveness, even the clunky, unfriendly seeming version exhibited — but eventually squelched — in lots of little girls. Cooperation is good, let’s support that — in both girls AND boys. And maybe teach everyone interrupting is rude and, though sometimes necessary, should not be a routine way of taking the floor.
A brave man commenting over at Feministing did his own informal and subject-of-1 survey on interrupting during meetings. Guess what he realized: he ‘s a big interrupter and his favorite demographic to interrupt is women! He pledged to stop right away. It was a big surprise to him but, ahem, to probably few women reading his comments.
What do you think readers? Where to girls get (or not get) the chance to speak up that would ready them to be vocal leaders?
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