Research: Men Get Credit for Voicing Ideas, but Not Problems. Women Don’t Get Credit for Either

Employee voice, or speaking up with information intended to help one’s group, has tons of well-recognized benefits. It can improve performance, help teams come up with creative solutions, and avoid issues that might hold them back. A lot of research suggests that those who speak the most in groups tend to emerge as leaders.

But does it matter who speaks up, or how they do it? In a forthcoming article in Academy of Management Journal, my colleagues Elizabeth McClean, Kyle Emich, and Todd Woodruff and I share how we explored these questions in two studies. We found that those who speak up can gain the respect and esteem of their peers, and that increase in status made people more likely to emerge as leaders of their groups — but these effects happened only for some people and only when they spoke up in certain ways. Specifically, speaking up with promotive voice (providing ideas for improving the group) was significantly related to gaining status among one’s peers and emerging as a leader. However, speaking up with prohibitive voice (pointing out problems or issues that may be harming the team and should be stopped) was not. We further found that the gender of the person speaking up was an important consideration: The status bump and leader emergence that resulted from speaking up with ideas only happened for men, not for women.

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