Study: Gender diversity is essential for collaborative excellence

Adding female minds makes workgroups smarter, but there’s more to team dynamics than just elevated intellect. New research examines how women’s interactive processes promote success.

Why you should hire more women

Want better work teams? Hire more women.

In a Harvard Business Review study, What Makes A Team Smarter? More Women, professors Anita Woolley and Thomas Malone studied how team/group diversification would affect overall team intelligence.

They found that teams with more women are smarter. From the article:

The standard argument is that diversity is good and you should have both men and women in a group. But so far, the data show the more women, the better.  We have early evidence that performance may flatten out at the extreme end—that there should be a little gender diversity rather than all women.

You do realize you’re saying that groups with women are smarter than groups with men? 

Yes. And you can tell I’m hesitating a little. It’s not that I don’t trust the data. I do. It’s just that part of that finding can be explained by differences in social sensitivity, which we found is also important to group performance. Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do. So what is really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.

So, why didn’t the study find that regardless of gender, having the smartest people made for the smartest group?  Conventional wisdom would say give me the 10 smartest people, and I’ll have the smartest team.

Yet in almost any real-life example, that doesn’t work out. Put the NBA’s top five scorers on one team, and they’ll almost always get beaten by another five assembled as a true team.

To make a great professional team, many elements beyond intelligence must come together.

Researchers pointed to these factors, among others:

  • Communication: Women tend to listen more to other team members.
  • Constructive criticism: Women tend to share criticism more constructively than men.
  • Openness to other ideas: Women have open minds about others’ ideas and theories.
  • Authority: Women aren’t as autocratic as their male counterparts.

What this study really does is speak more about team dynamics and what makes a team successful than about the differences between men and women. The researchers also found that all-female or all-male teams performed worst of all, so gender diversification is needed for high performance.

Not in a position to fire all your male employees and hire more women? Not to worry, the ingredients aren’t secret, but the training of the soft skills needed to be successful might be more work than just “de-manning” your company and moving forward.

A version of this post first appeared on Tim Sackett’s blog.

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