Wednesday, October 8, 2014

There is a lot of compelling evidence out there that suggests men are much more active in discursive settings than women. I did a bit of research in my own little world in order to see how things stack up. When deciding upon a venue, the nerd inside of me wanted to find a type of setting that I could measure in multiple different scenarios. So, for the first time ever, having three different jobs felt like a luxury. What do almost all unimpressive, entry-level jobs have in common? - The dreaded staff meeting. Each of my three jobs varies in male to female ratio and heaven knows that each of them has regular staff meetings in a singular format; an appropriate discursive setting to tackle some simple research. I'll talk a little bit about what I found and then I will try to piece together some common explanations and perhaps suggest some new ones. Throughout the post, I will be referring to different academic sources that come from individuals much smarter than I. Here come some pie charts.

Let's start with the real doozy. This is what the male to female participation ratio looks like in my sales job staff meetings. I saw this coming but I was still kind of surprised by it. Ah, the magic of a pie chart. Anyway, it can be seen that the three different females that work as sales reps made a whopping seven percent of the comments (including questions, jokes, anything). These data were gathered over eight different meetings, so it was not just one isolated incident. Overall, 151 of the comments came from male employees while only 11 comments came from female employees. When analyzing these figures, the first important thing to notice is the ratio of male to female employees. Yes, you can see that females were severely outnumbered. However, if these three females would have participated at an equal rate with male participants they would have made eleven or twelve comments each. It is also important to note that the meeting is always directed by a male manager. There are a number of excellent studies that explain why these two things are important.

An experiment conducted by Chris Karpowitz and Tali Mendelberg found that females become more likely to participate in a group as their numbers increase. The ratio happens to be a very important thing. The proposed reasoning is that women simply feel more confident when they are not the minority. If this is at all difficult to grasp, imagine being one of very few poll-vaulters in a meeting of mostly javelin throwers. It probably doesn't help if the person in charge is also a javelin thrower. At least that is what social psychologist Thomas Morrison learned from an experiment in 1984. He reports that females were much more involved when represented by females. If we go back to the example of being one of the few poll-vaulters, it seems to hold true that you might feel less reservations if the leader of the group was also a poll-vaulter. This next pie chart shows what happens when the male to female ratio increases in favor of the males, yet the manager still happened to be a

The male to female ratio is much more even in this job. It looks pretty even when you check out the chart. When I did the math, I was surprised to find that the females actually commented at a higher rate than the males. Females made up three sevenths of the group, but they made more than three sevenths of the 123 comments I counted. According to Karpowitz and Mendelberg's experiment, this shouldn't be happening until a huge female majority is recorded. Even then, it cannot necessarily be expected that the males will comment proportionately less. I think that this might be due to the fact that these particular three females have much more experience in publishing scholarly articles than us males. Also, I think my meticulous attempts to gather data may have excluded me from commenting as much as I normally due. Since this was a small group (and since only one meeting was recorded), a change in one person's habits can skew the data. Even if I had commented more, however, there is no denying that female participation increased.

For my third job I work as a desk secretary in a student housing complex. In this neck of the woods, exactly have of the employees are female, and so is the manager. Again, these factors changed the dynamic of male and female participation compared with the sales job. Nearly half of the discussion was dominated by females, not counting the manager. Still, males made more comments than females (82 to 73). Since I had hypothesized that this meeting would have the highest amount of female participation, I was a bit puzzled. I had already totaled my tally before leaving the room and I felt compelled to ask a woman sitting next to me why she never talked much in the meeting. I thought she was going to say that she was generally shy or just had nothing to say. To my surprise, she said, "I don't like to talk much because you guys are so funny." To clarify, when she said "guys" she meant all of the males in the room, who indeed tend to joke more. As I pondered this, I started wondering what it was about males that causes them to dominate these settings. This was partially due to my embarrassment for not ever realizing it beforehand.

A myriad of sociologists attempted to answer this questions by means of an experiment in 2007. Their main goal was to see if the differences in conversational behavior between men and women could be likened unto the differences in conversational behavior between different ethnic backgrounds. This connection is important since it has already been seen that ethnic majorities seem to dominate the conversation to the point of exclusion of the ethnic minority. Yes, they did find that there appear to be similarities, but this may be incomplete. Karpowitz and Mendelberg found that increasing the number of women increases the rate at which women participate, but it does not increase the rate by which men participate. What if men are just over-all less aware of gender, and therefore have less reservations?

The America Psychological Association did this pretty cool experiment in order to analyze some typical gender perceptions. They chose six people to act as data coders (three male and three female) and had them interview sixty different grad students (again, half male and half female). They asked specific questions to each individual in an attempt to predict each person's potential for hostility. They found that the female coders found the potential for hostility to be equal between males and females while the male coders found the female participants to be (on average) more likely to be hostile than men. They interviewed the coders after the fact and asked if they could recall the proportion of male to female interviews that he or she had conducted. The female coders responded with something like, "yeah I think it was half and half," while the male coders responded with something more like, "uh, I don't remember."

Perhaps it is a male's being accustomed to being part of the majority in discursive settings that allows him the luxury of not thinking twice before he speaks up. Certainly, of all the men I have spoken to, we agree that our gender is seldom (if ever) on our mind when we raise our hand in a class. I can only hypothesize that as women become more affluent in these situations and social norms are broken, men will continue to dominate.

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