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Need input: Women ask disproportionately fewer questions than men

  • 1.  Need input: Women ask disproportionately fewer questions than men

    Posted 07-28-2019 14:46


    Women ask disproportionately fewer questions than men in professional settings, even when women make up a majority of the audience. This was even more apparent when the Women's ERG group at my company hosted Travis County District Attorney District Margaret Moore for a fireside chat. Attendees were 80% women and only 30% of questions came from women. In response, the ERG sent out a survey on questions. Examples include "How comfortable are you asking questions?", "What are the reasons why you are not asking more questions?", "Do you agree in these reasons for asking questions?". From the survey, women lacked confidence, even with 15+years' experience and being the subject matter expert. Next, we took the survey results and built/conducted a workshop around asking questions. The workshop was successful and the results were immediate with several questions being asked at the next Town Hall meeting!

    I'll be presenting the workshop at the other site in the company and would love more input.

    Why is using your voice so important in the workplace? Can you give an example when it made difference early in your career? Have you ever helped someone else find their voice? How did you find your confidence?

    Do you have any tips for asking questions? How do you prepare differently from 1:1 meetings versus larger town hall meetings and the meetings in between (brainstorming, metric meetings)? 

    Thank you!

    Jessica Adams
    NXP Semiconductors
    Austin TX

  • 2.  RE: Need input: Women ask disproportionately fewer questions than men

    Posted 07-29-2019 10:45
    Not me!  I'm usually the one asking many good questions because I NEED TO KNOW.!

    Linda Froehlich
    Ace Wire Spring & Form Co., Inc.
    McKees Rocks PA

  • 3.  RE: Need input: Women ask disproportionately fewer questions than men

    Posted 07-30-2019 10:54
    Asking questions in a public forum is very much like public speaking.  If you are not comfortable with public speaking (or drawing attention), this truly might be the reason for the lack of participation in a meeting. It does not necessarily mean the women have nothing to say and has everything to do with their comfort level.  Just a thought....

    Bonny DesJardin
    Jesco Industries, Inc.
    Litchfield MI

  • 4.  RE: Need input: Women ask disproportionately fewer questions than men

    Posted 07-29-2019 15:26

    I love this - what a great topic!

    I think you might find this helpful as well: The article linked shows that your findings matched the same findings in academic settings (women ask fewer questions.)

    I'd note something I found particularly interesting, and a theme I've heard anecdotally from countless women in the industry, "But when the first question in a seminar was asked by a man, the proportion of subsequent questions asked by women fell six per cent, compared to when the first question was asked by a woman. The researchers suggest that this may be an example of 'gender stereotype activation', in which a male-first question sets the tone for the rest of the session, which then dissuades women from participating."

    I also think many of the recommendations made in the article are applicable - but i would love to hear directly from women why they do, or don't, speak up.

    AJ Jorgenson
    VP, Strategic Engagement
    The Manufacturing Institute
    Washington DC

  • 5.  RE: Need input: Women ask disproportionately fewer questions than men

    Posted 07-29-2019 17:20
    This is an important question. Asking questions can get past the filters and barriers that many of us erect when we are being "told something." By asking questions, we get the listeners to think, as opposed to reacting or defending or refuting.

    Why is asking questions important in the workplace?

    1) Simple answer- if we don't ask, we don't get. But there is an even more important aspect- If we ask, we can uncover hidden value. Years ago, I worked for a company whose CEO had a knack for uncovering this value: at the end of a conversation - on whatever topic- he would ask "Anything else?"  Just two words- Anything else? It was at once an invitation to share, to speak up, to point out what was important. Workplace takeaway- Several important initiatives resulted from a spontaneous answer to this two word "after thought" of a question.

    2) This is the least painful way to learn. No one likes a sermon, so lecturing is a really poor way to establish "learning."  When we ask questions, we force our brains and those of the others to actually engage and consider the material. No questions, no learning. Know Questions, Know Learning! Workplace takeaway- Learning is THE process for continuous improvement of our performers. The ones that create and deliver our value.

    3) Questions can help us establish a connection or bond, we know this one is true by default, First time we meet or greet some one, we start off with a question, How are you? how do you do? How are things? What do you do at XYZ? It's almost like asking questions is wired in. Workplace takeaway- if people are afraid to speak outside their silos, dysfunction is assured. Having an engaged connected workforce is essential in today's VUCA environment. Questions  enable connection and respect in both the questioner and responder- both are displaying their strengths- strengthening familiarity and connection.

    4) Questions are the Kryptonite to Groupthink. In Groupthink, people will self appoint  as thought police to stop questions that might stop consensus. Critical thinking is recognizing and challenging assumptions. no better, nor more respectful  way, in my opinion to do that, then by asking a respectful, but well considered question. A declarative statement will be shunned , booed, or shouted down, but a thoughtful query "Have we listed all of the costs?" is not threatening and will actually elicit deeper thinking by the group. Workplace takeaway- We have all seen the tragedy of group think in our workplaces- Purchases that should never have been made, candidates that should or should not have been hired. What's the harm in asking Did anyone confirm that they really did ..?
    Hope that this is helpful. it is way more declarative than I like to be.

    What did I miss?

    Miles Free
    Interim Director

  • 6.  RE: Need input: Women ask disproportionately fewer questions than men

    Posted 07-30-2019 14:54

    Fabulous question and very important as well. I recently finished the OPM program at Harvard Business School. It is a 3 year program. This is a cohort of owners and presidents. Our cohort had roughly 20% women. I am still shocked when other women from my cohort introduce me as "the first woman to ask a question". I am still unsettled that this action stood out so vividly for so many women. The cohort in global and I do understand in many cultures women still do not make themselves heard in public. I do know because I did ask my question it gave many others in the room the confidence to start asking questions. I think your question is a very powerful one and one that needs more exploring.

    Pamela Kan
    Bishop-Wisecarver Corporation
    Pittsburgh CA
    (925) 439-8272