Who Takes the Floor and Why: Gender, Power, and Volubility in Organizations
Being in a position of power in a group increases the volubility of men, but not the volubility of women.
A person’s volubility – that is, the amount of time they spend talking in group settings – is an important feature of social interaction. In particular, volubility plays a key role in establishing power within a group and also communicating that power to others. Both gender and power have been central to understanding volubility in organizations; however, prior research on volubility has not examined gender and power independent of one another. The author implements three studies to understand the connection between volubility, power, and gender, and to account for whether women choose to speak less due to fear of backlash or in order to build rapport. The first is an analysis of United States Senate transcripts. The second is an experimental study in which the participants were asked to imagine themselves as high- or low-power members of a work team and make predictions about their how much they would talk in team meetings relative to other team members. The third is an experimental study in which the participants were asked to read brief biographies of male or female CEOs who were described as either talking much more or much less than others in power and evaluate their suitability as leaders and their overall competence.
The studies showed that high-power men take much more speaking time in group settings than low-power men, while high-power women speak about as much as low-power women. The author also found that highly voluble women are perceived, by both male and female observers, as less competent and less suitable leaders than less voluble women, while the inverse is true for men.
- Among the U.S. Senators, male Senators with more power spoke significantly longer than those with less power. Female Senators showed no statistically significant relationship between power and speaking time.
- Similarly, the first of the two experimental studies finds that high-power men speak for more time than low-power men. It also found that not only do high-power women adjust their volubility so that it is equal to that of low-power women, but also that they do this out of concern about incurring backlash from appearing to talk too much and not out of a desire to build rapport.
- The second of the experimental studies finds that high-power women would, in fact, incur backlash if they spoke more than others in their groups. Female CEOs who were described as talking “much more than others in power” were perceived by both male and female observers as less competent and less suitable for leadership than less voluble women. The inverse is true for the perception of male CEOs.
In short, power has a strong positive effect on volubility for men, and no effect on volubility for women. Moreover, high-power women choosing to adjust their speaking time so they are similar to their lower-power group members is a rational response to the general perception that highly voluble women are incompetent and unsuitable for leadership.
The author conducts three studies to examine the relationship between gender, power, and volubility. Study 1 uses archival data from the United States Senate. The author measures the total amount of time each senator spent speaking on the Senate floor during the 2005 and 2007 congressional sessions. The predictor variables were gender and a power score obtained from a non-partisan private firm. Volubility was measured by obtaining data from C-SPAN footage. Study 2 recruited 206 individuals from an online research database. Participants were asked to imagine a team situation at work, and then were randomly assigned to be either the most powerful person in the room (high-power condition), or the least powerful one (low-power condition). Study 3 recruited 156 adults from the same online source. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions. They read a bio sketch about a chief executive officer (CEO), while the gender and volubility of the CEO was varied under a high-power or a low-power condition.