Washington, Sep 19: Women tend to clam up when they are outnumbered by men, especially in group discussions to solve problems, suggests a new study.
"Women have something unique and important to add to the group, and that's being lost at least under some circumstances," said Chris Karpowitz, political scientist at Brigham Young University, who led the study.
However, there is an exception to this rule.
The inequality disappeared when researchers instructed participants to decide by a unanimous vote instead of majority rule, the journal American Political Science Review reported.
Results showed that the consensus-building approach was particularly empowering for women who were outnumbered by men in their group.
Study co-author Tali Mendelberg of Princeton says these findings apply to many different settings, according to a university statement.
"In school boards, governing boards of organisations and firms, and legislative committees, women are often a minority of members and the group uses majority rule to make its decisions," Mendelberg said.
"These settings will produce a dramatic inequality in women's floor time and in many other ways.
"Women are less likely to be viewed and to view themselves as influential in the group and to feel that their 'voice is heard'," added Mendelberg.
For their experiments, Karpowitz and Mendelberg recruited people to be part of a group and discuss the best way to distribute money they earned together from a hypothetical task.
In all, the researchers observed 94 groups of at least five people.
On average, groups deliberated for 25 minutes before settling the matter.
Participants voted by secret ballot, but half of the groups followed majority rule, while the other half decided only with a unanimous vote.
Notably, the groups arrived at different decisions depending on women's participation - swinging the group's stance on the level of generosity given to the lowest member of the group.
"When women participated more, they brought unique and helpful perspectives to the issue under discussion," Karpowitz said.
"We're not just losing the voice of someone who would say the same things as everybody else in the conversation."
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