A group of BYU professors recently set out to examine the female experience in a top-10, predominately male collegiate accounting program. They believe the results of the research are not only helpful in an academic or professional setting but that it could even apply to our ward councils and our families.
In short, the study found that a woman having a seat at the table does not mean having a voice at that table.
“Women are systematically seen as less authoritative,” BYU political-science professor Jessica R. Preece says. “And their influence is systematically lower. And they’re speaking less. And when they’re speaking up, they’re not being listened to as much, and they are being interrupted more.”
Although this can often be viewed as outright misogyny, Preece says that many times this bias may appear in people who love women. “They may even be a woman,” she says. This bias can be manifest in many ways that serve to disempower women, but specifically, the study observed that women typically receive less talking time, they are routinely interrupted, and they are considered to have a limited influence.
The researchers cited Sister Reyna Aburto who, in her April 2018 general conference talk, said, “Revelation is scattered among us, and when we put that revelation together, we can see more.” They also cited President M. Russell Ballard who, in 1994, said that sisters should have a “full opportunity to contribute” and compared asking sisters for their ideas to “opening the floodgates of heaven.”
However, rather than simply identify the problem, these researchers went as far as to suggest ways to improve this aspect of our society. First, more women could be invited into these spaces, but if that isn’t possible, they offer seven other ways to empower women and elevate women’s voices. Among those is the suggestion to offer positive support for women’s ideas by being an ally and validating their ideas. Another is the reminder that this type of empowerment often begins at the top and that the person in charge can lead out in listening to and encouraging women.
“In one student thesis, women overwhelmingly shared gratitude for inclusion in ward councils—but almost invariably expressed the feeling that their concerns were easily dismissed,” the study found. Christopher F. Karpowitz, another political-science professor involved in the research says, “Occasionally you have a stake president or a bishop who isn’t really interested in counseling together. He already knows what he wants to do, and what he really wants is everyone to echo his preferences. … Our advice is to seek for unity together until everyone feels good about the outcome.”
Read more about the research and proposed solutions here.