Photo: US Mission Geneva
Powerful people are typically confident and outspoken, which is why they are able to persuade others to listening, and even accepting, their ideas. But a study conducted by the Yale School of Management says that powerful women aren’t speaking up as much as their equal-in-rank male colleagues for fear of a backlash from their peers if they come off as too aggressive.
Victoria Brescoll, an assistant professor at Yale, says that this fear is actually very real — her study proves that talkative powerful women are seen as incompetent compared to powerful men who talk just as much. The study says:
“When men talk a lot and they have power, people want to reward them either by hiring them, voting for them, or just giving them more power and responsibility at work. But when women do it, they are seen as being too domineering, too presumptuous. Women perceive this, and that’s why they temper how much they talk.”
For the study, Brescoll relied on the United States Senate to see how much senators spoke in relation to their gender and rankings. She found a “strong positive relationship between power and talking time for the male senators, but no such effect for the female senators.”
In further experiments, Brescoll asked 206 participants to imagine themselves in specific roles and through a series of questions, concluded that the participants tend to think that “a female CEO who talked more than other CEOs is significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership than a male CEO who spoke for the same amount of time.”
Published in Administrative Science Quarterly, the study says:
It may be that while men show a strong positive relationship between talking time and power, women show no such effect (or a much weaker one) for at least two reasons. The first stems from the different ways men and women approach leadership and power. Some research has found that women lead in a more democratic, non-hierarchical fashion than men, while men are more sensitive to and more comfortable with hierarchy and may behave in ways that reinforce their position in the hierarchy. In contrast, women may talk to establish and maintain relationships with others and therefore would be likely to speak for the same amount time as their counterparts, regardless of their power.
An alternative explanation, which predicts the same interaction pattern, has to do with women’s potential fear of backlash. Further analysis revealed that only the high-power women adjusted their talking time over concerns of being disliked, perceived as “out of line” or controlling, and other reasons consistent with a fear of experiencing backlash.
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