New research confirms that women’s voices voices often go unheard in the workplace; but men win for being assertive
No shock here.
A new report published in the Academy of Management Journal proves what every professional woman already knows — that opinions voiced by females are often ignored.
When women speak up “promotively” — broaching positive ideas or solutions — their voices go unheard.
By contrast, men who engage in the same behavior are generally rewarded with increased leadership and influence. Neither women nor men benefit from giving warnings or pointing out wrongdoing, the study found.
The study’s authors examined workplace dynamics in environments including the West Point military academy and an insurance company, and their conclusions were confirmed each time.
“It comes down to the legitimacy of men versus women in the workplace,” Elizabeth McClean, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management and the study’s lead author, told Moneyish. “It’s more legitimate for a man to engage in these … more assertive behaviors, and it’s less so for women.”
“It’s a cultural thing,” she said of the stereotypes.
The new report backs up previous research which found that male employees receive higher performance evaluations when they offer ideas that generate new revenue for their employer, but female employees don’t get the same benefit.
Carol Dubin, a South Florida real estate professional, recalled a time early in her career when she convinced the chairman of her company’s board to approve a loan. Her male manager later asked if her “father helped [her]” prepare the proposal, because he couldn’t believe that a woman did it alone.
Holding on to such cliches can hurt business. “There’s a stereotype that women don’t make good leaders, and yet there is actually increasingly large amounts of empirical research that women are evaluated more positively as leaders than men are,” said Margaret Neale, a management professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, who was not involved with the study.
That said, women can employ certain strategies to overcome these obstacles. Here are a few.
Have each other’s backs: The study’s authors found that when women endorse one another’s ideas, both in the boardroom and beyond, they gain an extra measure of legitimacy in their colleagues’ minds.
At Stanford, Neale has a “posse” of male and female colleagues she can count on to back her up. “When we are in meetings and we see a woman have an idea and it’s not heard… somebody else says, ‘I’ve been thinking about what Kathie just said, and I think she’s got some real insight here,’” she says. A similar strategy was employed by senior aides to President Barack Obama, who found themselves outnumbered by men early in his first term.
Speak with authority: Make others recognize that you’re an expert in the subject matter. According to Nola Beldegreen, a New York communications professional, too many of us don’t spend enough time considering the “art” in which we say things. To embody this executive presence, she suggests speaking with “vocal conviction” at a high volume, and organizing what you want to say well in advance of a discussion.
Encourage your company to hire more women: It’s easier to speak up and be taken seriously when you’re not the only representative of a particular group. “The easiest solution is to have more women,” Neale concluded. “Once you get above 30% of women in the group, then the nature of the group changes.”
Neale said she’s seen this effect have an impact on the atmosphere at business schools like Stanford. When there are more women in the mix of students, “it’s much easier to teach, the conversations are better, and the women are not forced into the choice of representing an entire gender,” she said. “That’s a really hard place for anybody to be.”
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