A new study shows that having a seat at the table is very different than having a voice.
The study, by researchers at Brigham Young University and Princeton University, found that women speak less than men when a group collaborates to solve a problem.
In most groups that the researchers studied, the time that women spoke amounted 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, Ph.D., the lead study author and a political scientist at BYU.
There is an exception to the norm, according to the researchers. 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 the group.
“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,” said Princeton’s Tali Mendelberg, Ph.D.
“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.’”
For their experiments, Karpowitz and Mendelberg recruited people to be part of a group and discuss the best way to distribute money they earned from a hypothetical task. The researchers observed 94 groups of at least five people.
Groups deliberated for about 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.
The groups arrived at different decisions depending on women’s participation, according to the researchers, often 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. “We’re not just losing the voice of someone who would say the same things as everybody else in the conversation.”
The new study was published by the American Political Science Review.
Source: Brigham Young University