Global Women’s Studies Colloquium focuses on gender disparities in the workplace

Students and faculty gathered for the Global Women’s Studies Colloquium on Jan 21. Over 100 students attended to hear BYU professors Jessica Preece and Olga Stoddard. (Veronica Maciel)

BYU professors Jessica Preece and Olga Stoddard discussed how gender plays a role in the workplace and group dynamics at the Global Women’s Studies Colloquium on Thursday, Jan. 21.

The research they conducted showed women are ranked as significantly less influential than men and are chosen less often as a spokesperson when put into groups in the workplace. This is especially true for women in groups with just one woman and more men.

However, there are solutions to these problems. The causes for gender disparities are complex, but according to Stoddard, there is one simple way to even the gender playing field: make decisions in unity, rather than by majority.

“When a group makes decisions through unanimity and consensus, that tends to rebalance the power dynamic,” Preece said. “So if there aren’t very many women in your group, then it’s probably a really good idea to start thinking about making decisions through consensus because that ends up leveling things out, rather than just saying, well, ‘majority rules.'”

Their research used teams of accounting students from an undisclosed university to show that the proportion of women and men in a room matter. Most research conducted on this topic, like the research done by BYU professor Chris Karpowitz, was collected in a lab.

But Preece and Stoddard wanted to conduct their research in a real-life situation and see if the previously collected results held true. Their research suggests that the proportion of men to women does matter and that their interactions improve overtime. Both Preece and Stoddard hope to continue this research and adapt it to online interactions in the workplace such as Zoom and Teams meetings.

Two students minoring in global women’s studies, Samantha Johnston and Amelia Van Komen, were asked to give a response at the end of Preece and Stoddard’s presentation.

“While their research may not be able to tell us exactly why gender discrimination is happening at the table as it differs from person to person, it can tell us what is happening and the numbers show a vicious cycle that proves to discourage or even silence women in many settings,” Johnston said.

In the context of recent events, Van Komen said these findings can have a significant impact on how society functions as a whole. She mentioned how the inauguration and swearing-in of Vice President Kamala Harris is a step in the right direction for equality between genders, but the work is not done.

“It is simply not enough to have a seat at the table. Women need to be welcome to the table, take up room at the table, invite other women to the table and use their voice for themselves and all those they represent,” she said.

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