A plethora of studies and attendant articles have recently created a stir around the mix of men and women in groups and the how the gender balance affects creativity, productivity and outcomes.
Jessica Stillman’s blog on BNET cites a number of sources that subscribe to the idea that the more women in a group, the better the results. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review by researchers Anita Woolsey and Thomas Malone explains the results as not so much gender differences, but “differences in social sensitivity.” Since women score higher than men do on tests for social sensitivity, they are more likely to be better contributors to effective group dynamics. Granted, social sensitivity is not solely the purview of women, but it is less common in men for any number of reasons, among them basic socialization that accentuates competitiveness and dominance as manly traits.
Think about it. Social sensitivity includes listening skills. There are linguistic and social studies that focus on gender differences that have indicated that men interrupt more than women. It could follow that a higher number of women in the group would mean fewer interruptions and would foster the kind of synergies that arise from the building of ideas on ideas rather than on one-ups-man-ship or competitive speaking.
That isn’t to say that female-only or female-majority groups are more effective than their male counterparts. Only that gender diversity would appear to have a salubrious effect on group processes and outcomes.
An entirely different outlook is proposed by Deborah Cameron in her very interesting book, The Myth of Mars and Venus (Oxford University Press) a portion of which is available on the UK Guardian site online. Cameron proposes that it is status, not gender, that dictates who dominates in a group situation and what form that dominance would take. As well, she suggests that the differences in communications styles cited by earlier studies are quite minimal.
So what is it that supports, enhances, creates the higher outcome values in groups that contain women in greater proportion? Arguably, any aspect of diversity, whether it be based on gender or culture, would provide a wider continuum of perspective that could not but help to lead to better decision making, more cogent thinking, or a wider array of options.
What do you think? As women business owners, does this issue have any bearing on creating success in your enterprise, better networking skills, better communications with your male or female clients/customers? I’d be very interested if you could add anything of value to the discussion.
July 27, 2011
July 27, 2011
I just found delicious counter to all of this discussion regarding women’s influence on groups in Laurie Penny’s blog in the New Statesman. More grist for the mill.