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Video conferencing: Women do worse than men

Researchers from SDU and the University of Magdeburg have investigated how different voices are perceived via online tools such as Zoom, Skype, or Teams. Not all frequencies are fully transmitted, which affects women, whose voices are perceived as less competent, expressive, and charismatic than men's voices.

By Sune Holst, , 6/9/2021

The use of video conferencing has exploded during the corona crisis. Schoolchildren, teachers, and virtually all companies use either Zoom, Teams, or Skype.

It is easy, efficient, and smooth, but a study by SDU and the University of Magdeburg shows that it is a disadvantage for women, as their voices can be perceived as less expressive, competent, and charismatic than men's voices.

This is because, despite the huge amount of data transmitted in connection with a video conference, it is compressed audio that does not manage to transmit all frequencies and details in the spoken language. And it affects women more than men, the study shows.

More disappears in female voices

Behind the study is Oliver Niebuhr, Associate Professor at the Center for Industrial Electronics at SDU in Sønderborg, and Assistant Professor Ingo Siegert from the University of Magdeburg.

– You can compare it to a sandwich. When you compress sound, you remove something. If we take a traditional Club Sandwich, then in the case of men, maybe a little salad disappears because their voice position is in a certain frequency range.

– Because women's voices are on a different frequency, more disappears; maybe dressing, salad and dressing, so that in the end there is only bread and chicken left, says Oliver Niebuhr.

If you want to convince a person of something, then it is essential that you appear charismatic. You need to have that person's full attention.

Oliver Niebuhr, Associate Professor

And bread and chicken can be boring, which is certainly not good in an important meeting or a possible negotiation situation.

– If you want to convince a person of something, then it is essential that you appear charismatic. You need to have that person's full attention. Our voice is extremely important in that context - especially in a context where body language is taken out of the equation, as is the case in a video meeting, says Oliver Niebuhr.


The worse the internet, the worse it gets

At a time when not only education, trades, business agreements, but also political agendas are handled via digital communication media, there is a need for technology to improve.

Because it is no good that Mette Frederiksen is points behind even before she enters a negotiation.

– Now it is the case that the worse the internet you sit on, the more compressed the sound becomes. I assume that the Danish Prime Minister has a good internet connection, so I do not want to worry that much is lost in this context. But with the knowledge we have gained with this study, it opens for adjustments, says Oliver Niebuhr.

The technology needs to be improved

Oliver Niebuhr says that the developers of video conferencing programs have focused on the extent to which users have been able to understand the words that are being said. That is, how the words are transmitted.

– Not all codecs make women appear less charismatic, but in the future, there should be more focus on the details that are essential in our communication. The small nuances.

The Study

· The two researchers asked test listeners about their impressions of recorded voices.

· Professional speakers provided sound samples that were to be classified on a scale of one to ten. The women's voices performed significantly worse.

· The female speakers lacked the emotional component that gives the language a charismatic expression.

Meet the researcher

Oliver Niebuhr is an Associate professor at Center for Industrial Electronics. For over 15 years he has researched, tested, and analyzed the non-verbal cues and linguistic characteristics that characterize some of the world's best speakers, such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. Through recordings and ingenious computer programs, he has mapped some of the acoustic structures that characterize them all. Popularly said, has can put charisma on formula.


Editing was completed: 09.06.2021