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Why silence is bad for businesswomen

Staff writer |
Can you name ten female CEOs? We bet you can name a few but not ten. The obvious question is why there are so few women at the top spots and the answer may be - the silence.

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If you've ever been at the meeting you saw that some people are talking much more than others, no matter their position or expertise. They have good reason for that: they want to show that they are ready for a better job and higher salary.

If you are talking and actively participating in the discussion, others will perceive you as a person who want to help the company, a person who has skills and knowledge. You may say something not so smart here and there but generally speaking your wish to be noticed will be noticed. Every boss likes employees who are showing the will to do their job better, faster and to help the whole company.

Now, there are differences between genders and those differences are significant. Scientist at Brigham Young University (BYU) and Princeton examined whether women speak less than men when a group collaborates to solve a problem. In most groups they studied, the time that women spoke was significantly less than their proportional representation - amounting to less than 75 percent of the time that men spoke.

"Women have something unique and important to add to the group, and that’s being lost at least under some circumstances," said Chris Karpowitz, the lead study author and a political scientist at BYU. There is an exception to this rule of gender participation, however. The time inequality disappeared when researchers instructed participants to decide by a unanimous vote instead of majority rule.

Results showed that the consensus-building approach was particularly empowering for women who were outnumbered by men in their group.

Study co-author Tali Mendelberg of Princeton says these findings apply to many different 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. Women are less likely to be viewed and to view themselves as influential in the group and to feel that their voice is heard," Mendelberg said.

For their experiments, Karpowitz and Mendelberg recruited people to be part of a group and discuss the best way to distribute money they earned together from a hypothetical task. In all, the researchers observed 94 groups of at least five people. On average, groups deliberated for 25 minutes before settling the matter. Participants voted by secret ballot, but half of the groups followed majority rule while the other half decided only with a unanimous vote.

Notably, the groups arrived at different decisions depending on women’s participation – swinging the group's stance on the level of generosity given to the lowest member of the group. "When women participated more, they brought unique and helpful perspectives to the issue under discussion," Karpowitz said.

So, women, don't be shy, raise your voice at the company meetings. You will help the company and the company will help you climb the corporate ladder.