When Women Don't Speak Up

Women who are outnumbered by men in a group are less likely to speak their mind. In fact, new research has found that women speak 75 percent less than men when in such a setting.

To prove this, Chris Karpowitz, the lead study author and a political scientist at Brigham Young University, and Tali Mendelberg, study co-author and a professor at Princeton, observed how groups discussed how to distribute money earned from a hypothetical task. The researchers had participants vote by secret ballot with half the groups following a majority vote and the other half following a unanimous vote.

"Women have something unique and important to add to the group, and that's being lost at least under some circumstances," Karpowitz said. "When women participated more, they brought unique and helpful perspectives to the issue under discussion. We’re not just losing the voice of someone who would say the same things as everybody else in the conversation."

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When voting by majority decision, women deferred speaking if outnumbered by men in a group. However, when voting unanimously, the researchers found that women were much more vocal , suggesting that consensus building was empowering for outnumbered women. The researchers also found that groups arrived at different decisions when women did participate. These findings, however, are not simply limited to business settings.

"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.'"

The research was published by American Political Science Review, an academic journal specializing in political science. The researchers observed 94 groups of at least five people.

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