WomenEd Blogs

Leadership: enabling others to share their opinion


by Lucy Flower @MrsLFlower


After my post on ‘Forming an Opinion’ I had some incredible responses, particularly from the #WomenEd community. Most shocking was the article I read from BYU, ‘When Women Don’t Speak’.

It transpires that simply having a seat at the table does not mean having a voice.

The study conducted by Professor Jennifer Preece, Professor Olga Stoddard and Professor Christopher Kravitz on mixed gender groups of women and men, found that when asked to make a majority decision, the perspectives of influence meant that women were routinely interrupted, had unequal talking time, and as a result were seen as less influential in shaping the direction of the decision making in the group.

However, interestingly, when the groups were asked to make a unanimous decision, female speaking time became nearly equal to male, interruptions were overwhelmingly positive, ‘Yes, I agree’ or ‘Good point’, and the influence gap narrowed significantly.

Unanimity rule sends the message that everybody’s voice matters.

The conclusions to be drawn from this, particularly in relation to leadership meetings in an education setting, are too important to ignore. We must empower all to have an opinion, give them a seat at the table, and ensure that their voice matters.

These are the practices I shall be taking forward as a leader to ensure that voices are heard:

Clarity of agenda: Sending out the agenda in plenty of time prior to the meeting, clearly stating what will be discussed, along with any supporting pre-reading materials, will ensure everyone has time to think and digest the materials, supporting them to use the time in the meeting to discuss rather than digest. Marking which agenda items are for discussion, and which are a briefing, will also save colleagues valuable time in their preparation, and mean that they are committed to future meetings, as they know that it matters that they are there.

Don’t be precious: If you are chairing the meeting, think carefully about the outcome you want to achieve. If you have already made the decision, don’t waste time by courting others’ opinions. This could result in their frustration and feeling a lack of value. If you are willing to have your mind changed, accept that others may disagree, and allow the time for a full discussion of all points of consideration.

Solicit opinion: Consider the dynamics of the discussion – is one person dominating? Make sure that everyone has the time to share, and draw out quieter members in a non confrontational way to share their ideas.

Use positive interruptions: Not all interruptions are rude! Positive affirmations are encouraging and allow people to feel heard, and gain confidence in their points. This could be ‘Great point!’ or ‘I agree’ – or even non-verbal head nodding.

Be aware of stereotypes: As found in the BYU study above, men were more likely to have their opinion courted and agreed with on subjects such as finances, even if they were less qualified than the women present to speak on this topic. Ensure you are pushing back.

Be an ally: Men, support the women! Listen carefully to what is being said, and don’t automatically step in with your thoughts. Call out negative interruptions, and support women’s points of views. #HeforShe

Differing perspectives are crucial to us as leaders to make the right decision for our contexts, but we must ensure that we allow those opinions to be heard. ‘A seat at the table does not mean having a voice.’

I would love to continue this discussion – please comment below, or speak to me on twitter @MrsLFlower.

Here are some more excellent articles to read on this matter which have influenced my thinking on this matter, particularly focusing on imposter syndrome in women:

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Saturday, 01 October 2022

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