Are Women Unfairly Judged for Being Vocal? Yes, Says Yale Study.

May 4, 2012
4 Min Read

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg became a hero to many women when she publicly stated that she leaves the office at 5:30 p.m. every day to be with her children. Not only was this a call for the 40-hour week many of us have abandoned, it was a statement from a powerful, successful woman.

Unfortunately, according to a new study, not enough top-level women like Sandberg are speaking up – about anything.

A Yale School of Management study finds that women executives don’t express their views as often as their male counterparts because they fear they will be seen as too outspoken.

“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," says Victoria Brescoll, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale.

Many men may scoff at this idea, citing their own significant others as being completely assured in stating their opinions on a regular basis. But Brescoll turned to the U.S. Senate when investigating the issue, since every word is recorded in that chamber.

Brescoll looked at the 2005 and 2007 sessions, analyzing gender, amount of time spoken (using C-Span and the Congressional Record) and then assigned a “power score” to each person. That score was given based on the lawmaker’s position, indirect influence, legislative activity and earmarks established by Knowlegis, a non-partisan firm.

While powerful male lawmakers talked more, the same could not be said for powerful female lawmakers, Brescoll found.

Interestingly, the powerful women didn’t even talk more than their less-powerful female counterparts, although powerful men had no problem gabbing more than less-powerful male lawmakers.

Still, Brescoll decided to explore further and launched an experiment where the men and women were asked to rate a hypothetical female CEO who talked more than other CEOs.

What do you think happened?

This talkative female CEO was rated as “significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership” than a male CEO who talked an equal amount. For the female CEO who was quieter than everyone else , she was judged as competent – even though the male CEO talked more than she or anyone else did.

"What's ironic is that good leaders tend to also be good listeners. So harshly judging female leaders for talking 'too much' could have negative consequences not just for individual women, but also for organizations," Brescoll noted.

What do you think? Do you see women hold back at work because they’re worried they will be seen as “talking too much?”

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