TODAY   |  February 23, 2012

Why women don’t speak up at work

Psychologist Jennifer Hartstein and Ivanka Trump of the Trump Organization discuss why women are particularly susceptible to clamming up in group settings.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 8:11, this morning on today's woman, new research is shedding light on how men and women operate in the workplace. a lot of women say they often feel afraid or tongue-tied when it comes time to speak up in a meeting or a group setting. it turns out there may be a biological reason. savannah guthrie is joining us with details.

>> a lot of us have had this experience. from the moment we first go to school, we're introduced as being part of a group . it's the way we solve problems in the classroom, board room . now researchers at virginia tech are saying for women , that group setting may not be that great. we are women . hear us roar. unless we have to speak up in a meeting. and then, for some of us, it's -- [ crickets ]

>> at the start of her career in investment banking , a field traditionally dominated by males, joan said she didn't speak up.

>> it can be intimidating to sit in a room full of men and voice your opinions. especially when men can be vociferous and getting a breath in to speak can be challenging.

>> in 2012 women have the smarts, the schooling, the experience, but often not the courage to voice their views. from classrooms to board rooms, when we have to speak up, sometimes we shut down. scientists at the virginia tech research institute decided to study the phenomenon and discovered it's all in our heads -- literally.

>> we wanted to study the impact of social rank in a small group on your ability to solve problems.

>> the researchers gave a group of men and women with similar baseline iqs a set of questions to answer. in the middle of the test, they were told how well they did compared to the rest of the group . and then, their iqs were measured again. the findings were startling.

>> in a social setting, some of the people's iq goes down and of the ones that go down, over 80% of them are women .

>> bottom line, the study showed for some, particularly women , if we think others in a group are smarter, we become, well, dumber. and in the real world , where key business decisions are often made in small group settings, just like this, a lot of good ideas may not be getting heard.

>> the way we organize our business is completely built around small groups . and in fact, may be in some settings, that damages the performance of your employees the way you doesn't want that.

>> the virginia researchers think the loss in iq may have something to do with women be more sensitive to body cues, reading the body language of others and reading others perceptions. however, this business woman says that same sensitivity can be beneficial.

>> well let's use that to our advantage and let's actually be stronger and communicate better because we know that we're actually picking up on these cues better. and we may be able to be that much more impactful.

>> a lesson for working women . making what makes us different work for us.

>> and of course with women now holding 48% of all jobs in the u.s., ann, it kind of begs the question, do women need to adapt? or do the businesses?

>> savannah, thank you so much. ivanka trump is the executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the trump organization and she cans seen on the new season of " celebrity apprentice " and jennifer heartstein is a psychologist. good morning to both of you. i was reading what one of the researchers said about this pattern which is happening across gender lines. quote, women often are more attentive to what others may be feeling or thinking, a sensitivity that is likely has an evolutionary origin. jennifer , how exactly does this cause women to mute themselves in a meeting-typesetting.

>> it's really sad that this is what's happening. but we're finding that women are reading the room, feeling afraid that someone else is smarter, has more to say, or in the interest of the relationship, they don't want to be perceived as being a braggert, bringing too much to the table. taking too much time. they want to keep the peace and they sit back and wait it out. men don't do that, they jump in and talk shop, women are more focused on the relationship element of it which impacts them in a group setting.

>> do you notice this as well?

>> at the highest level you hear people talking about this. for years there have been studies saying women are less inclined to speak up. now this is the first time i think anyone has correlated to a biological effect. and studied it on that level. but you know, women are less likely to ask for raises and therefore, less likely to get them. women are more likely to advocate for the team as opposed to themselves. i think a lot of this sort of goes back to just how we conceptualize things and less likely to put ourselves out enter and more about the collective. which probably means in the group settings women are less inclined to speak up. particularly when they have their perceptions put on.

>> we need to switch this up. we need to be paid equally and have as much power in the meetings as men and we need to not feel stupid, when we're not stupid. it's not that we're dumber, we feel less courageous, a little bit. because we're more sensitive. what do we need to do?

>> we're comparing ourselves all the time 0 other people and worried about the judgment. one of the things we need to do, maybe you need to practice what it is you want to say to someone or go to your manager and say, i have a lot of things i want to bring to the table today, can you put me on the agenda. or managers need to think about this differently and say, everything is going to have a chance to talk today, so be prepared to contribute.

>> i think in a practical way you can't change the way they react to you. but i think you have to start speaking out. you have to make sure that the labels others are putting upon you as being shy or meek or quiet or less assertive don't define who you are. i have a little baby girl and all the parenting books, they talk very carefully about not labelling children. because it becomes ultimately sort of the pre-destins them to be more inclined to be more like that. i think it's the same thing. people are internalizing what's being projected on them and it's defining them.

>> now that we know, there's a biological link, that there's a hard wiring, it also kind of gives you relief. now you know, it's not that you have to feel insecure or less courageous. it means that you have to understand this is part of being a woman.

>> and hopefully don't use it as an excuse. we know we have a biological link. don't just say, it's just my biology. i think ivanka's point is really important, you can change that, as long as you commit to doing that.

>> and excuse for single-sex schools?

>> for girls.

>> that's a whole 'nother subject.

>> ivanka trump and jennifer heartstein thank you so much this