Study Finds That Women in Male-Dominated Groups Who Speak Up Become Highly Influential

A new study by women scholars at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that when women are outnumbered in a team setting, they tend to speak up and contribute less. But when women do contribute to a group in which they are outnumbered, they tend to have large influence within the group.

The research team examined the dynamics of more than 100 groups. The researchers found that the findings apply to women and men if either gender is in the minority of a group. Both genders tend to get lost in the discussion because they participate less, even when they have relevant expertise, possibly because they assume they won’t be heard, according to the authors. The research found that those in the minority typically don’t want to speak up because they already feel different, and if the information they offer differs from the consensus, they may feel uncomfortable with further highlighting their uniqueness.

Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s business school and a co-author of the study explains that “if you don’t speak up, there’s no way for the group to figure out who has more expertise and listen to them. You know more than you give yourself credit for, and it helps your group if you speak up. And you’ll have influence.”

Dr. Woolley holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees all from Harvard University. The lead author of the study was Anna Mayo a doctoral student at the business school. Rosalind Chow, an associate professor, was also a contributing author.

The study, “Unpacking Participation and Influence: Diversity’s Countervailing Effects on Expertise Use in Groups,” was published on the website of the journal Academy of Management Discoveries. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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