• Fri, May 4 2012

Powerful Women Are Also Afraid To Speak Up At Work

According to a new study, young women just starting out in their careers aren’t the only ones afraid to speak up at work. Concerned about the negative consequences of appearing to be too outspoken, powerful women talk less at work also, while powerful men talk more.

Victoria Brescoll, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management,  studied the amount of time men and women in powerful roles talk. She specifically looked at the United States Senate, where every word spoken is recorded. Brescoll found a strong positive relationship between power and talking time for the male senators, but no such effect for the female senators. Male senators with higher power scores talked more on the Senate floor than less powerful male senators, while there was no significant difference in the amount of time powerful female senators spoke compared to less powerful female senators.

She then replicated this experience where she asked people to pretend they were either the most powerful member of a work team or the weakest. The results were very similar to the senate. She also found that 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.

In another experiment when she had male and female participants rate a hypothetical female CEO who talked more than other CEOs as “significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership” than a male CEO who talked the same amount. A female CEO who talked less than others was viewed as equally competent and deserving of her title as the male CEO who talked a lot as well. But a male CEO who talked less was looked at as less competent and deserving than the female CEO who talked a lot. So clearly the hesitation to talk a lot is just.

It is hard to speak up. It is hard to voluntarily put yourself in the spotlight and be vulnerable but it is imperative that women speak up at every level. Whitney Johnson, founding partner of investment firm Rose Park Advisors and a contributor to The Harvard Business Review, said “Unless women speak up — and I don’t mean just talk, but get fluent in and remain fluent in a domain of expertise, whether finance, technology, science, fashion, construction, law — the whole idea that women can bring something extra to the table and be game changers won’t happen.”

Women really need to work on being more bold, said Lisa Gates, founder, trainer and coach of She Negotiates, an institution that helps women with essential negotiation skills that positively impact every area of their life and work. “We keep quiet, we don’t speak up. That is our first biggest mistake,” she said. Look for opportunities to show off your accomplishments to your manager. “Women have to learn how to sing their own praises. The female thing we do is use words like ‘pretty good’, ‘sortuv’, ‘kinduv’. Men naturally brag and it looks good on them,” she said. “When we do it, we judge ourselves and we judge others.” Gates suggested if you just did a big project then go talk to your boss and tell him or her about it. “You need to say ‘I’d like to have this conversation – just open it up.”

We all loved The Artist, but let’s all try to speak up more!

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