Executive Women Leaders--Talk Less to Gain Power?

Wed, May 16, 2012

Quiet (1) resized 600I was astounded to read about the results of a recent study by a Yale university professor. Apparently, women who speak more are perceived as less competent. On the other hand, men who speak more are viewed as more competent. Professor Jennifer Brescoll suggests that how much we talk has implications for how powerful others perceive us to be. The frightening thing about this study is that women may interpret the results to mean that if they talk to much, they will experience a backlash. 

I find this fascinating, because there is also research that suggests that women who speak up less in meetings, slowly over time, are seen as less competent and are not promoted as quickly as their male counterparts.   We all know stories about women who express a good idea early in a meeting, only to have it ignored. A male counterpart raises the same exact idea later in the meeting and is hailed as brilliant. I have had this happen to me and have seen it happen to others. 

So how do we make sense of this and what does this mean to ambitious women who want to move up the corporate ladder in to senior leadership positions? Does it mean that we have to completely muzzle ourselves? Why do we ascribe more power to men who take up more air space than to women who do the same? 

It may be that our social conditioning and hardwiring have predisposed us to expect that women will listen more, be more nurturing, and talk less. These traits are certainly in alignment with emotional intelligence. Knowing how to read others and what to say when surely must trump pure testosterone! In fact, in Brescoll's study quiet women were perceived as more competent than quiet males and almost as competent as talkative males!

I would like to hear from some of you. What do you make of these findings? In your experience, do women need to talk less to rise to the top of their companies? 

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

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