Women and Meetings

June 16, 2011 | 50 comments
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Once a year I attend a professional conference on juvenile law and practice. The keynote speaker at this year’s conference is Bruce D. Perry, a scholar and psychologist who studies the effect of trauma on brain development and who runs a clinical practice treating children and juveniles who are forced to deal with those difficult issues.

The thrust of his main talk was that our modern approach to raising children is too isolating and that kids don’t get the intensive exposure to relationships they once did. [He embraces the EP model and asserts that we evolved to live in large social groups, not small nuclear families.] He stated that the average US kid gets now gets 8 hours of screen time per day. Wow. A pithy summary of his remarks might be that children need more people and less pixels in their life.

Part of any effort to help troubled children (whether in a treatment, social work, school, or legal context) is going to involve group discussion and group decisions about services, treatment, and placement. These cases present tough issues and with few easy solutions — the collective wisdom of a group provides more ideas and a better recommendation about how to proceed than a single person could develop. Here is the interesting statement Dr. Perry made that my blog radar (always on) picked up for a post: The IQ of group decision-making goes up in direct proportion to the number of women participating in the group.

That was an aside, with no additional detail or context. I suspect that in a roomful of men there is generally lots of talking and not much listening, and that adding women to the mix changes that unproductive dynamic in a positive way. I can think of two immediate applications of this interesting claim to LDS church governance:

  1. Recent changes making the Ward Council (with three women) rather than the PEC (with zero women) the primary group decision-making body at the LDS congregational level improves the quality of decisions made at the local level.
  2. The absence of women in the senior councils of the LDS Church at the institutional level adversely affects the decisions coming out of those senior councils.

So what do you think of the claim? And do you think it is true in the LDS setting?

50 Responses to Women and Meetings

  1. SilverRain on June 16, 2011 at 9:15 am

    From a hunter/gatherer viewpoint, it would be because women have evolved in a much more socialized environment.

    How do you know there is an absence of women in higher church councils?

  2. Erastus on June 16, 2011 at 9:32 am

    SilverRain – are you implying women may secretly take part in higher councils, but for some reason the brethren don’t want us to know about it?

  3. Last Lemming on June 16, 2011 at 9:32 am

    The IQ of group decision-making goes up in direct proportion to the number of women participating in the group.

    Is there no point of diminishing returns, or would the men truly be doing everybody a favor by just staying home?

  4. SilverRain on June 16, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Not at all, I’m wondering how Dave knows. Does he participate on these councils?

  5. E. Wallace on June 16, 2011 at 9:50 am

    #4: Er, you’re asking how Dave knows that women aren’t members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12?

  6. Amira on June 16, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I’m a little confused by SilverRain’s question too. I am sure there are women participating in some senior church councils, but by definition they aren’t participating in many.

    And that does concern me because I happen to live in a place where there are no wards or branches; we’re directly under an Area Presidency. That means there are, by definition, no women in council over me, my family, or the exclusively female membership in the country I live in. Maybe this isn’t a problem, but it’s hard for me to be sure it isn’t.

  7. ldsbishop on June 16, 2011 at 10:09 am

    1. Earlier last year I deliberately increased the number of Ward Council meetings while reducing the number of PEC meetings we had (with the blessing of the Stake President). I always felt the quality and outcomes of the meeting were far superior when it was a Ward Council rather than a PEC. Anyway, a few months later the new handbook came out and justified the change.

    2. I don’t know how much the general auxiliary presidencies interact with the First Presidency and Q12, so have no way of judging how it affects the decision making process of those organisations.

  8. SilverRain on June 16, 2011 at 10:25 am

    “2. I don’t know how much the general auxiliary presidencies interact with the First Presidency and Q12, so have no way of judging how it affects the decision making process of those organisations.”

    That answers what I was asking. Sorry, I thought it was a pretty clear question. The councils are obviously not always quorum-only, so I was simply asking how Dave knew enough to qualify their participation as “absence”.

  9. Dave on June 16, 2011 at 10:35 am

    SilverRain, the presence of women on the Ward Council and their participation is not a secret. If there are women present and participating in senior councils, there would be no reason that should be a secret. So I assume we would have heard about it. We do hear about some of those meetings in anecdotes related in General Conference and when GAs visit local stakes and branches. Women are present as leaders of auxiliaries at some meetings, but it is not clear to me those are necessarily decision-making meetings.

    The whole focus of Correlation over the last 50 years has been to remove autonomy and decision-making power from these auxiliaries. That was a primary purpose of the Correlation program! It still is. So there is a real disconnect between what the General Authorities are now doing at the local level via the changes in Handbook 1 (bringing women into the decision-making process at the local level) and what Correlation is doing (removing women from any decision-making role at the institutional level). If anyone is aware of statements indicating senior leaders are aware of this disconnect, please comment.

  10. ldsbishop on June 16, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Dave (#9)
    Just because on an institutional level the women in the general auxiliary presidencies are not the final decision makers, doesn’t mean they are not involved in the “decision making process”.
    Of course, without being there, none of us know how much they are involved. There must be some involvement otherwise there is no point in there being auxiliary presidencies on that level.

  11. Martin on June 16, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Dave, I think the guy’s comment is just reverse sexism.

    I do agree women often bring a different perspective, and if you don’t have it you’re likely to miss something. But the same is true when women don’t have men in their meetings. Maybe the guy wasn’t used to having women’s perspectives in meetings and therefore found them invaluable, but what he said was just dumb.

  12. Adam Greenwood on June 16, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Here is the interesting statement Dr. Perry made that my blog radar (always on) picked up for a post: The IQ of group decision-making goes up in direct proportion to the number of women participating in the group.

    I’m just going to come right out and say I don’t believe this. Evidence please.

  13. Bob on June 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    “The IQ of group decision-making goes up in direct proportion to the number of women participating in the group”.
    Could this also mean having fewer women makes it go up? (Grin).

  14. Julie M. Smith on June 16, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    “I’m just going to come right out and say I don’t believe this. Evidence please.”

    Always a little painful to agree with Adam, but I can’t see how this could be true if the group is a bunch of engineers and the meeting is about computer code.

    Now, if the meeting is about policies to help single women remain active in the Church, that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms . . .

  15. Dave R on June 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Think Dr Perry was referring to this study –
    Collective Intelligence: Number of Women in Group Linked to Effectiveness in Solving Difficult Problems
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100930143339.htm

  16. Dave on June 16, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Adam (#12), see comment #7. When a bishop says the ward council gives “far superior” quality and outcomes than the PEC (and the only essential difference is that there are three women included), that’s evidence. If you’d like expert opinion, go dig up the apostolic discussions from the recent video training meetings about how helpful it is to have the women’s point of view included in the group discussion on the ward council. They really emphasized that idea, suggesting they thought there might be some resistance to that idea. They anticipated some LDS men responding, “I don’t believe that.”

    Martin (#11), I would imagine meetings that were historically all-female and then moved to include some men would see broader discussion and better results.

  17. Dave on June 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Thank you for the link, Dave R.

  18. Paul on June 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I second the experience described in #7. When I was a bishop in Venezuela 15 years ago, we held two ward councils a month, primarily to help integrate the large number of converts we had in the ward and to discuss / track / evaluate their progress and whether the ward was meeting their needs. Doing so without the sisters (whose organizations shepherded a large portion of said converts) would have been silly.

    When new training encouraged us to move to more ward councils and fewer PECs in our present ward, I was thrilled. The ward council (when the sisters are empowered to participate, and when they do) is far more effective at planning and arriving at useful solutions than just the PEC.

    But I note that sisters still don’t participate in bishopric meetings (nor do men in RS presidency meetings), and stake presidencies and high councils still also meet without women, just as the presiding quorums (presumably) do.

    Is there a general church council meeting analogous to the ward or stake council in which all auxiliaries are represented?

  19. Jonathan Green on June 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Dave, you need to distinguish two different issues. The independence of auxiliary organizations is not at all the same thing as the presence of women’s voices in general councils, so I don’t think correlation is relevant here.

    It seems clear that discussions that are limited to the general priesthood quorums will not have women’s voices, which might lead to some of the problems that you and others have suggested. But there are other committees where women are represented, for example the Church Board of Education/BYU trustees (see http://saas.byu.edu/catalog/2009-2010ucat/AdminFaculty/Administration.php), where 2 of the 10 members are women. Not exactly a perfect example of equality, but still an important council where women are represented.

    So I don’t think it’s at all correct to talk about an “absence of women in the senior councils of the LDS Church at the institutional level” without explaining what you mean. Which councils? With what responsibilities?

  20. Jax on June 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I always thought the collective IQ went up with the presence of nachos at a meeting.

    The likelihood of a group coming to a ‘good’ decision goes up with the presence of another man as well. Additional experience, knowledge bases, and different points of view add to that likelihood in every group. Adding a woman usually offers a more varied set of experiences and viewpoints than adding another man, and so you might increase the IQ more than by adding one more male to a group of males, but it all depends on the woman (or man) added. Likewise adding a man to a group of woman will be more valuable than adding another woman.

  21. Stephanie on June 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Considering that there are 9 women in auxiliary presidencies and 102 men listed as “General Authorities” (plus 6 men serving in auxiliary presidencies), I find it hard to believe that women would be sitting in on many of the decision-making meetings of the church.

  22. manaen on June 16, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    An ancecdote: three women participated in one of my employer’s team-building day of paint ball.

    * Although we all wore camouflauge, one of the women noticed that only the other team had anyone wearing one-piece jump suits. Our rule immediately became, “shoot jumpsuits on sight.”

    * My team wore orange arm bands, the other team wore white ones. Another woman on my team suggested that when anyone asked what team we were on in the brush where visual ID was impossible, that we answer “White *also*”. White-team members would be fooled and orange-team members would be set at peace.

    The women’s superior sartorial and language sensitivity were unexpectedly invaluable in this male-dominated sport.

  23. Adam Greenwood on June 16, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Adam (#12), see comment #7. When a bishop says the ward council gives “far superior” quality and outcomes than the PEC (and the only essential difference is that there are three women included), that’s evidence. If you’d like expert opinion, go dig up the apostolic discussions from the recent video training meetings about how helpful it is to have the women’s point of view included in the group discussion on the ward council. They really emphasized that idea, suggesting they thought there might be some resistance to that idea. They anticipated some LDS men responding, “I don’t believe that.”

    Wrong. None of that supports the claim that The IQ of group decision-making goes up in direct proportion to the number of women participating in the group.

    Apparently not enough women assisted in the drafting of your post or of your comment.

  24. Sally on June 16, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I have read that in general when a woman is speaking in a group she tries to build a consensus. When a man speaks he tries to convince the group that he is right

  25. Ray on June 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Sally, you’re wrong. (j/k – couldn’t resist) Actually, there is some importance to that general tendency, imo.

    I’ve spent most of my adult professional life in education, and many of the groups in which I’ve been involved have been made up primarily of women.

    In my experience, there are some decisions that need to be made quickly and some that don’t. Increasing the number of voices inhibits the first type and helps greatly the second type – and adding women to the mix tends toward consensus effots and away from quick decisions. One of the most frustrating things I’ve experienced is a group needing to make a decision but not being able to do so because not everyone agreed. Sometimes a delay was the right thing in the end, but sometimes it wasn’t.

    So, speaking totally stereotypically, yes, absolutley, adding women to a decision-making process results in better decisions – unless those decisions don’t require consensus and need to be made quickly. Again, stereotypically, adding men also results in better decisions – unless those decisions are best made through consensus and don’t need to be made quickly.

    The Church’s council approach works ideally, imo, if done “correctly” – by allowing for input from all but allowing quick, non-consensus decisions when those decisions need to be made quickly while also allowing decisions to be put off when consensus is more important than speed. Unfortunately, not everyone understands that aspect of “counciling”, ime – and that lack of understanding applies to men and women.

  26. Dave R on June 16, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I think Sally has it just about right. The study indicates that the reason group IQ improves with female participation is because, on average, women have greater ‘social sensitivity’ — a trait that appears to improve decisions. That seems to make sense to me, so i would expect both local and senior councils to operate better with female particpation.

  27. Dave on June 16, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Adam (#24), see the link in comment #15 for the general case and see my comments in #16 for the LDS case. Evidence about the specific LDS case (that participation by women improves the decisions of meetings) is, of course, relevant to the general case. I discuss both in the post. Are you so obtuse by choice or is it irremediable?

  28. Johnna on June 16, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    what improves meetings is people who know how to get stuff done at meetings. And sadly, too many women of my age have never been in a church leadership position or had the type of job where they learned how to make a meeting work–to contribute helpfully for the purpose of reaching an actionable decision.

    It was refreshing when I moved out here, and the PTA was staffed almost entirely by women who, unlike me, had previous career lives. Stuff got done. No one lengthened the meetings for desperately needed social interaction. No one ego was invested in her PTA pecking order.

    It has made me a little cynical–sometimes when we talk about the importance of motherhood, with an emphasis on SAHMotherhood, there arises this pernicious idea that being a SAHM is enough. Yes, arranging your life so you can stay home with your children, if possible, is important valuable, perhaps even noble, but not sufficient to stamp your card for the rest of your life. If you’re a young woman without career going into motherhood, seek experiences where you can work with other adults about things that matter, with people who model how to get stuff done. It doesn’t have to be paid work, and it doesn’t have to be many hours a month.

    I’ve been in so many horrible time-wasting all-women meetings to accept the overstatement of “IQ goes up with more women.”

  29. James Olsen on June 16, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    I think your thoughts here dovetail well with our general belief in the divine, eternal complimentarity between men and women. It’s rather conspicuous that our notions of highest exaltation and celestial leadership necessitate the intimate coupling of men and women, and yet the highest counsels of the Kingdom of God on the earth are – by our own doctrine – infinitely unbalanced. Perhaps it’s an implicit argument that the institutions of this world are necessarily fallen. “Are we damned Azmon?”

  30. Kurt on June 17, 2011 at 1:00 am

    I’d be curious to see his source for that statement. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it were true, but the science behind the claim would be fascinating to look into.

    I think the introduction of differing viewpoints sparks thought processes that aren’t present in more homogeneous settings, and there is nothing like mixing “Venus” and “Mars” together to make you reevaluate your perspective on various issues.

    At the same time, I don’t think that having more of one gender or another is always a guarantee that the collective IQ of the group goes up. Certain settings are more appropriate for higher concentrations of one gender or another, just as some settings are more appropriate for higher concentrations of other demographics.

  31. michelle on June 17, 2011 at 2:17 am

    “If there are women present and participating in senior councils, there would be no reason that should be a secret. So I assume we would have heard about it.”

    I heard Sister Beck talk a few months back and she mentioned some of the high-level committees she is on, and it impressed me to see that she is part of committees that include members of the Quorum of the Twelve, as a direct assignment from the First Presidency.

    She’s also talked about making decisions in the council/counsel process at the highest level of the Church. e.g., “Our presidency has prayed, fasted, pondered, and counseled with prophets, seers, and revelators to learn what God would have us do….”

    “I find it hard to believe that women would be sitting in on many of the decision-making meetings of the church.”

    I think part of what is important to realize is that the decision-making process includes much more than just the “sitting” in one meeting.

    “The whole focus of Correlation over the last 50 years has been to remove autonomy and decision-making power from these auxiliaries.”

    I’m not sure I see where you want to go with this, since women are involved in that process.

  32. michelle on June 17, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Hm. I should have italicized the comment quotes I was responding to. Sister Beck’s quote is only that one statement after the e.g. ;)

  33. John Mansfield on June 17, 2011 at 6:26 am

    The IQ of group decision-making goes up in direct proportion to the number of women participating in the group.

    So, if a woman is added to a group, the group’s IQ rises a certain increment, and if five women are added to the group instead of one, the IQ rise is five times what it seen when one woman is added?

  34. SilverRain on June 17, 2011 at 8:30 am

    #9 Dave—So you were speaking out of assumption, not direct knowledge. Thank you, that is what I was curious about.

  35. Bob on June 17, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I guess many of you missed the movie Patton? There is a scene where he stands over his Generals and demands/yells “We will be in Bastogne in 48 hours__or we will all be dead!” Like most Generals__not a man of ‘social-sensitivity’, but good at making a decision.

  36. Adam Greenwood on June 17, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Adam (#24), see the link in comment #15 for the general case and see my comments in #16 for the LDS case. Evidence about the specific LDS case (that participation by women improves the decisions of meetings) is, of course, relevant to the general case. I discuss both in the post. Are you so obtuse by choice or is it irremediable?

    #15 makes the case that if you put strangers together in small groups of 2-5 and have them solve a number of mind problems and business tasks, 40% of their variation in outcome correlates to the proportion of women in that small group. If that’s your new, modified claim, then I have nothing to argue with.

    Neither that or the LDS observation that ward counsel works best when you have the relief society president involved supports the lunatic claim that The IQ of group decision-making goes up in direct proportion to the number of women participating in the group. These words mean things, and the things they mean are nuts.

    I’ll change my moniker to a woman’s name if it would help you grasp the point better. Failing that, you can ask the women in your life to crowd their l33t social skills with you around your computer monitor. Have them do it slowly, though, so the self-realization isn’t too abrupt.

    P.S. If you want to know why I reacted to the statement in bold right smack dab in the middle of your post instead of the uninformed and baseless speculations about what goes on in high church councils, the answer is that the statement was in bold right smack dab in the middle of your post. And also that it’s crazy.

  37. Dave R on June 17, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Sure, Bob. Church leadership councils would work best if they excluded people who were cooperative and had empathy and found to possess other ‘social sensitivity’ traits.

  38. Adam Greenwood on June 17, 2011 at 10:24 am

    If Church leadership councils include women, the Nazis win!

  39. Dave R on June 17, 2011 at 10:47 am

    And apparently if Church Leadership councils included Bob, we’d all be watching Patton during next October’s Priesthood Session of General Conference.

  40. NateT on June 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I do not know about the research, but in my experience, the Relief Society President tends to know more about what is going on in the ward than anyone else.

    That is probably the biggest factor in what makes Ward Counels more effective. The more quality information the group has access to, the better the decision most of the time. This is no mystery.

  41. Bob on June 17, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    @ Dave R: You mean we are not??!! (The RS can watch ‘Sleepless in Seattle’).

  42. SilverRain on June 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    #41 I’d not doubt it. That’s because women talk. Primarily to other women.

  43. Raymond Takashi Swenson on June 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    President Henry Eyring was a professor of organizational management at Stanford, and in at least one talk he related how, when he first was called to work as a GA, he was pleased by how the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve made a special effort to build consensus, and will defer decisions on policy if there is even one member of the group who disagrees, giving that person time to talk it over with others and affect the outcome.

    From my own experience in government and the military, achieving unity is just as important in group decision making as the particular decisions made.

    It seems to me that the way the Brethren make their major decisions is precisely the kind of process that the researchers in the linked study found happened naturally when women were in the decision groups. I think this is also a far call from the kind of ego-stroking, competitive behavior that happens so often in other decision groups in government and business and the military.

    I think the research report itself makes clear that it is a particular approach to group decision making, which comes more naturally to women, not something that only women can bring to a group, that raises the “group intelligence”. Indeed, it seems to me that properly developed priesthood holders, who have come to live the unselfish ethos of D&C 121 and the dedication of D&C 84, will bring to their meetings mcuh the same kind of sensitivity that was fgound valuable by the research. Honoring the priesthood takes the rough edges off men. When they listen to the still small voice, they hear people better, too.

  44. Stephanie on June 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Raymond, on the one hand, I agree with what you are saying. On the other hand, it sounds like it could be used as an excuse for continuing to leave women out of meetings. The value of having women in meetings is that we have a different perspective. Particularly in a church where women and men have different roles, it makes sense that women would have a different perspective that is valuable when making decisions for the whole. (this reminds me of a post Alison wrote recently)

  45. Sherri on June 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    “I do not know about the research, but in my experience, the Relief Society President tends to know more about what is going on in the ward than anyone else.”
    I think this is the most valid point in regard to women in church councils since these are mostly about ward issues, none of which involve writing computer programs or attacking enemy forces.

  46. Suleiman on June 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Women I appreciate, meetings not so much.

  47. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 19, 2011 at 8:52 am

    #32 has it right. There are women in the general boards of the Church, the O.P. makes an interesting case for why that is important.

    #5 & #6 above seem to miss the point that most of what is done seems to involve meetings of the various general boards, not the 12.

  48. Dave on June 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks for weighing in, Ethesis. Feel free to expand a bit.

  49. palerobber on June 20, 2011 at 10:01 am

    hmm, i didn’t know there was an IQ test for “group decision-making”. how do you measure whether a group made the “correct” decision?

    isn’t it enough to say that any group that arbitrarily excludes half its members from councils is not going to make decisions that best align with what the whole of the group considers “good”? i can’t see what gender has to do with it.

    regarding question #2, it only “adversely affects” the decisions of senior LDS councils is you assume that those leaders actually care whether their decisions are warmly embraced by female members. i don’t see much evidence that they do, and why should they? after all, they lead the church by virtue of having been called, no? it’s not as though they just presumed, consolidated, and maintained power all these years by earthly means, right? :)