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Please, sir, may I speak?

Published Sep 27, 2012

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London - The conference table is meant to be a place where all opinions can be shared and disseminated in an equal setting.

Whether it works in practice is up for debate, but a study shows that – at a mixed table – men will dominate the conversation, taking up 75 percent of the conversation.

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Brigham Young University and Princeton researchers have voiced concerns that decisions are made without a fair representation of views at the table. They say the best way to ensure a fair mix of opinions is to make decisions on a unanimous basis, as the gender divide vanishes at this point.

In most groups that the scientists studied, the time that women spoke was significantly less than their proportional representation.

Chris Karpowitz, the lead study author, said: “Women have something unique and important to add to the group, and that’s being lost at least under some circumstances.”

The exception to this rule of gender participation is that the time inequality disappeared when researchers instructed participants to decide by a unanimous vote instead of majority rule.

Results showed that the consensus-building approach was particularly empowering for women who were outnumbered by men in their group.

Study co-author Tali Mendelberg says the findings apply to many different settings.

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“In school boards, governing boards of organisations and firms, and legislative committees, women are often a minority of members and the group uses majority rule to make its decisions.

“These settings will produce a dramatic inequality in women’s floor time and in many other ways. Women are less likely to be viewed and to view themselves as influential in the group and to feel that their ‘voice is heard’.”

For their experiments, Karpowitz and Mendelberg recruited people to be part of a group and discuss the best way to distribute money they earned together from a hypothetical task. In all, the researchers observed 94 groups of at least five people.

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On average, groups deliberated for 25 minutes before settling the matter. Participants voted by secret ballot, but half of the groups followed majority rule, while the other half decided only with a unanimous vote.

Notably, the groups arrived at different decisions depending on women’s participation – swinging the group’s stance on the level of generosity given to the lowest member of the group.

“When women participated more, they brought unique and helpful perspectives.

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“We’re not just losing the voice of someone who would say the same things as everybody else in the conversation.” – Daily Mail

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