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There are always alternative explanations, but note that this research did many things to rule out alternative explanations. The finding about Senators ruled out the time ordering explanation, and the lab studies, which control causality with random assignment, further ruled it out. This journal reject over 90% of the papers rejected to it because they lack sufficient rigor and even by the standards of this publication, these findings are robust. Your umbrella example is red herring. That and many other alternative explanations are ruled out. Perhaps you don't just don't like the finding. There is lots of evidence -- from research on confirmation bias -- that people reject findings that clash with their beliefs regardless of the rigor of those findings. Yes this research may be disproven by future studies, but it is more rigorous than any we have on similar subjects.


A study in the U.K. found that 75% of people were carrying their umbrellas on days when it was raining. Therefore the study concluded that umbrellas cause rain, and recommended a ban on umbrellas in the UK to improve the weather...

Obviously, that's a bogus study. One of the dangers of studies is that they provide CORRELATIONS, but not necessarily any causal information about the reason for those correlations.

For example, this study states the (presumedly accurate) fact that women who talk more are not seen as more powerful, like men. However the reason ascribed to that is completely subjective and without any scientific merit. Let me pose an alternate theory - one that's equally subjective, but perhaps that shows another reason for this difference.

First of all, I pose the premise that men and women are different. (On a subjective level I propose that this is a good thing, and that we should embrace, rather than trying to quash these differences. But I digress.) In fact, studies have shown that women talk 3 times as much as men. (This study is in question and recently rebutted, see here: I question both studies.)

Certainly, both from colloquial and scientific evidence, men and women communicate DIFFERENTLY. In particular, our brains are wired differently. I would claim that men who communicate more are often perceived to be more powerful because they are asserting a skill that most men lack.

On the other hand, women who talk a lot may be perceived as more chatty and superficial - and those women who communicate in a more direct and focused manner would be seen as more powerful.

I also believe that men and women are naturally better at different types of communication.

None of this EXPLANATION of the results of the study is any more valid than the preparers' explanations. But it points out the danger of studies - the reason behind the result is not always obvious, and is subject to the scientists' bias.

Anu Vuorikoski

So, wny would a woman give her idea to a male colleague for public credit????

Laura Mann

I think this bias was very much at play in how a lot of people reacted in a negative way to Sarah Palin in 2008. She seems to have been hated by many not just for her opinions, but mostly because she was bold, direct and opinionated. I actually liked those things about her.


FYI, an interesting post by Female Science Professor takes up this topic in the STEM research fields


@vnona: I too have found this to be true in a variety of settings. I have spoke up in meetings and felt the disapproving glare of several other attendees who felt I should be silent because I was new or I was only there as window dressing. There is definitely a risk to being an assertive leader if you are a woman. Contrary to some recent articles, the risk is increased if you are a minority even if the audience is other minorities or mixed.

Karen Martin

Much appreciate this post, Bob. It's the elephant in the room that periodically gets some air time, but never enough to have the in-depth and honest conversations that are required for meaningful change. I've only recently begun shifting my own behavior along these lines, thanks to the awareness I gained by listening to Sheryl Sandberg's Dec 2010 TED talk -

I hadn't planned on commenting about your post, but I just made a discovery that propelled me to write. I made a list of my favorite bloggers to include on my website and was surprised to find that they are all male. I'm sure I've been overlooking important and provocative female business voices. But the fact that I have to seek them out is troubling and perhaps symptomatic of the issue you've raised (and perhaps my own bias?)

I also noticed that, so far, only one man has commented about your post. That, too, may be telling. Yes, it's awkward and the PC era we seem to be stuck in doesn't help. But we need to bust through our discomfort and start addressing this issue head-on. We owe it to the young men and women who are entering the workforce with the greatest power to effect change. Habits are tough to break, but we clearly need to create new habits for communicating, listening, and viewing those who express opinions. It's not easy, but I'm working on mine.

Laura Trice

I learned at a workshop that men hear women's voices in the same place of their brain that listens to music. So it is more the tone than what we are saying. I work more on the tone of my voice melodic and metered, but keep my opinions and words just as strong and honest. As long as I don't get screechy, I notice that men listen. I wonder if it isn't more biological than sexist. I find that I also can't listen to women who have a nagging, harsh tone or quality to their voice. I'll bet their are women CEO's and senators who have mastered their tone to keep men's ears open and still lead with their words and ideas.

Joy Becker

The only answer is to keep talking. The idea that one should have to "navigate" this to be successful is just more bullsh*t. If we, as women, continue to "navigate" we will never rise above. I'd rather fail knowing it is their ignorance that kept me down, than rise feeding their egos by "feeding them my ideas behind the scenes". That isn't power dear, that's self deprication guised as "feminine wile", feminine wile is accepted because it props up the male ego. Enough already. Be yourself. Speak your mind. Truth is truth. It will be heard eventually.


This is an issue that needs to be addressed from the earliest age. Research in the field of education supports that male students are allowed more uninterrupted time in the classroom to answer questions or formulate opinions than female students are. This unfortunately continues through graduate level education and into the business world. Until we can uncouple the ideas of gender and value we are not going to be able to change this cultural ill. It has to start early and be consistently modeled that all individuals are of value, and there have to be consequences in place to prevent the systematic devaluation of individuals based on their gender. "Well behaved women seldom make history."

bonnie lenore kyburz

of course, "power" is conceptually diverse. i often fail in the OBVI power arena but move on with own sense of power in tact. it's complicated. maybe i shouldn't try to explain :)


Yup, and yup. Thanks for admitting it, at least. That's more than a lot of people do. And as long as people delude themselves that equality has already happened, they deny very real subliminal biases.

As an individual, I'm a big advocate of using humor (which arises precisely from violating social expectations); not that's a bulletproof strategy, but it's certainly helped me get my opinion heard - and look, for example, at how well it's served Elena Kagan.

Otherwise, women area stuck with what Ann Daly called "doing the cha-cha"( i.e. negotiating the individual culture of each work environment. There's no white paper for this one.

But I'd certainly like to hear how/if any organizations have successfully addressed this problem at the structural level.

Nilofer Merchant (@nilofer)


You're naming something very important. The rules are different. When on stage, I get tweets from women that call me "arrogant" and from men that call me "confident". It's a bias that runs deep that women shouldn't brag or boast or even direct. But of course if you don't share what you're accomplishing, with your most passionate voice and the direction you think is right for others to follow, you're not leading.

Until we even name it, we can't start to shift it.

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