Making a case for more female participation on Boards of Directors, executive groups, strategic committees, project task forces or, well, just about any group, just got a little easier. A recent research study described in June’s Harvard Business Review submits that having a group comprised of more women will ultimately lead to greater success. Why? Because, with women participating – and the more women the better – a group’s “collective intelligence” rises, giving the group a higher score on the tasks they were given. Even the teams which had members with higher IQs didn’t score as high as the teams with women.
Professors Anita Woolley and Thomas Malone compared the study teams after they asked them to complete several tasks including brainstorming, decision-making, and complex problem-solving. They found that “many of the factors you might think would be predictive of group performance were not…” Though they caution the findings are preliminary, “if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.” They went on to point out that part of the findings can be explained by differences in social sensitivity, which was also found to be important to group performance. Many past studies have shown that women tend to score higher than men in social sensitivity skills such as listening, collaborating and sharing constructive criticism.
Another interesting aspect of the study is that the groups in which individuals dominated the conversations did not do very well. I’m sure that most of us have sat in a group where one or two people, in my experience usually men, keep others (women) from contributing through a form of intimidation. They continue to perpetuate boys’ club behavior by wielding their seniority, talking loudly, and playing off each other to dominate meetings. These tactics have now been shown to yield inferior results.
Instead of advising women to try to fit into the male-populated cultures that have existed in the past, this research helps make the case that perhaps the culture has some things to learn from us instead. Imagine that! According to this and other research on the proven benefits of engaging women, businesses should be fighting to get more women on their teams for one simple reason – it’s to their advantage. Hopefully, as time goes one and with more confirming data, all businesses will see this as a priority.
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