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Studying how much powerful men and women talk
Yale School of Management Assistant Professor Victoria Brescoll finds that even women in power purposely curtail how much they speak in a group because they’re aware, whether they like it or not, that being too outspoken can be off-putting.
Now an assistant professor at the Yale School of Management, Brescoll has recently published a paper in the Administrative Science Quarterly that looks at how much men and women who hold powerful positions talk in group settings. Her study found that while men who have high-power positions tend to talk much more than men without very powerful jobs, the difference in how much women in high- and low-power roles talk in group settings, on average, turns out to be insignificant. While that may not be surprising to many, Brescoll wanted to find out both why it happens and illustrate its actual occurrence in the real world.
Her hypothesis? Women — even those in power — purposely curtail how much they speak in a group because they’re aware, whether they like it or not, that being too outspoken can be off-putting. “When men talk a lot and they have power, people are like ‘oh, that’s fantastic, I’d vote for him.’ 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.” Or as Stanford professor Bob Sutton put it in a blog post about Brescoll’s work, “The blabber mouth approach works for guys, but backfires on women.”
To examine this question, Brescoll designed three studies.