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article imageOp-Ed: Women should shut up, men should talk louder to advance careers?

By Paul Wallis     Jun 9, 2012 in Business
Sydney - A new study has thrown an appalling light on a cultural ethos which seems truly based on an ancient cave society script. The study has found that women who say less are more likely to progress their careers, while men who “talk louder” do better.
This is one hell of a reflection on how advanced this society really isn’t.
Sydney Morning Herald:
Researchers at the Yale School of Management say that women who talk “too much” in an office environment are perceived to be less competent than those who speak up infrequently - with the former considered to be “domineering and presumptuous” by their female co-workers, and even more so by men.
Conversely, males are perceived to project a sense of power and authority when voicing their opinions and are likely to be handed more responsibility as a result.
If you’re groaning at this finding, you can at least be reassured to know that your impressions of a primitive, hormonally-based workplace are pretty right. This is cave stuff. Some guy who has nothing to say should talk louder, presumably cranking up the testosterone, while women should be “demure”, and say nothing, even when they have something useful to say? …And career success is based on this?
What sort of mentality values statements or the lack of statements on volumes? A pretty idiotic mentality, and definitely a mentality which is based on some rather animalistic priorities. The fact is that this is a social status image. The noisy guy is “competent” because he’s assertive, therefore confident, and therefore competent. The “demure” female is competent because she’s not interfering with a status structure. Add to this the rather dry fact that you can't argue with someone who says nothing, and a pattern emerges. If she's got anything to say, she's more likely to say it where saying it will achieve something without interference and obstruction.
The author of the study Professor Victoria Brescoll is quoted as saying-
“For example, people tend to believe that women are less domineering than men and, also, that women should be that way. So when we encounter a woman - even a very powerful one - dominating a meeting at work by talking a lot, we see her as presumptuous and then tend to dislike her and give her less power and status.”
Excuse me if I find this assumption natural but missing about all of the really significant issues. The problem isn’t about equality of women, intelligence or any of the obvious issues. It’s about perception. This level of perception barely scrapes in as average for educated people, who usually listen for content, not theatrical presentation in terms of being demure or yelling. It’s not clear where respondents for the Yale test were found (or dug up) or what their level of education was.
To add further grounds for annoyance:
In a comparative study, respondents were asked their opinions about US Senators when they addressed an audience. Researchers noted a strong link between notions of power and capability when male senators spoke for long periods, but not so for females. They concluded that, between the two studies, female CEOs are considered less suitable for leadership roles compared to men when both genders voice opinions equally.
Length of exposure to stimuli usually does have some effect. “Notions of power and capability” is also rather ephemeral- A powerful man may be some silver-haired, brattish geriatric with a high opinion of himself, and that image transmits through behaviour. He acts like a rich kid, so he's seen as successful and powerful by default. What about a powerful woman, though? Is there a stereotype, or a range of expectations? No, because of the historical subordination of women. Few successful women fit any "normal" pattern of success criteria beyond being rich. They're recognized as successful because there's not really much else you could call them.
The fact that anyone can listen to any US politician speaking for a long time and get a positive impression is also a possible indicator of lack of education. That's disturbing. Ken Lay, head of Enron, was also described as "the smartest guy in the room", and Enron was one of America's biggest corporate disasters. The most ineffectual, backward collection of people in US Congressional history produce a notion of power and capability in the middle of a depression? To whom? Do the respondents read the news, or do they get someone to color it in for them?
Apparently the actual background of whoever’s speaking wasn’t an issue any more than their content while speaking. If the captain of the Titanic gave a speech on water safety and simply spoke loudly for a long time, he’d get some sort of credibility on the basis of these findings. If Dorothy Parker were to work as a journalist, career advisors would have told her to shut up and say nothing, according to the “demure gets promotion” finding.
The subject of research is interesting, but these findings are hideous. Either respondents come from a society well on its way back to walking on all fours, or these tests need some better definitions of success. These findings, if accurate, are the first indicators of truly inferior, nauseatingly superficial levels of perception. This is about the same level as con men wearing a clean shirt and tie.
Sorry, Professor Brescoll. Behaviourism is not necessarily an exact science any more than human beings are exactly quantifiable behaviourally. I think you're dealing with two very different animals which can't be compared. I've been writing in the US and employment markets for years, and the "cultural fit" is actually a bullet in social terms.
The loudmouth guy may look good, but he's a suicide in progress in the workplace in many ways. As a guy, I can tell you that the guy yelling at me is also the guy that as his boss I’m more likely to shoot for overstepping his social status, too. The loudmouth guy also always has other competitive and resentful males around who despise him and will merrily cut his throat at any opportunity. He's a walking missile range. He’ll have male managers who’ll fire him at the slightest excuse for being a perceived threat. Being perceived as successful isn't the same thing as being successful. Being perceived as competent, in practice, isn't based on behaviour but measurable values.
Successful women aren't that easily defined, and their career paths aren't like those of men, in many cases. The woman who’s remaining quiet but dignified/enigmatic and saying nothing in an unreceptive environment presumably dominated by noisy guys I will consider competent on the basis of not wasting her breath, not for being demure. Her political skills will defeat the noisy guy any day of the week in business. Successful females also often define their own roles, unlike ladder-climbing guys, noisy or otherwise, who usually step into the wrong size shoes by following roles.
I'd also suggest doing the same tests with business professionals, not "respondents" regarding career potentials. I simply cannot quite believe that any group of humans living in the 21st century will credulously buy the "presentation" approach to careers.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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