Women in business profit when they talk with each other

Talk amongst yourselves.
Talk amongst yourselves.
Image: EPA/Wolfgang Kumm
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There’s a pernicious stereotype about women talking too much. Trafficking in sexist jokes about talkative women forced David Bonderman, a private equity billionaire, to quit the Uber board.

Yet, there’s new evidence that shows that women should talk more. When women in business share critical information, they can thrive.

In France’s Champagne region, women make up only 14% of the grape growers, yet collectively they command a higher price for their grapes than the male growers, according to a study from researchers at Yale and the London Business School, described in Harvard Business Review. Women were successful because they pooled information about pricing, while male growers either said talking about prices with rivals was bad manners, or viewed others’ information suspiciously.

Researchers Amandine Ody-Brasier and Isabel Fernandez-Mateo examined 5,700 individual transactions over a 17-year period. The price differences are small—women earned a premium of between 1% and 2%—but consistent, and amount to about 2,500 additional euros a year for the small growers. The women didn’t explicitly collude to set prices, but shared tips about bargaining styles, and what prices the market would support.

“Because the female growers were able to obtain more accurate market information, they were able to price their own products more aggressively than the male growers,” the authors wrote.

It was the women’s minority status that led them to band together in solidarity, the researchers suggest. Across industries, women use formal and informal networks to trade tips about professional opportunities and hazards, and sharing information about salaries is one way women have pushed back against sexist pay inequality.

To tamp down labor costs, companies often encourage pay secrecy, with some prohibiting the sharing of salary information. In one famous US pay discrimination case, Lilly Ledbetter was underpaid for 19 years at Goodyear because she didn’t know what other workers earned.  US president Barack Obama barred the practice among federal contractors in 2014.

Men of affluent backgrounds have long relied on closed networks to aid one another. It only makes sense that, to catch up, women are doing the same.