We need better gender balance in teams
– by Ida Eriksen, journalist at Copenhagen Business School
Teams perform better when they consist of an equal gender balance between men and women. That is the conclusion of a new study by a Copenhagen Business School professor.
How does the work culture and balance between the sexes influence our work performance?
That is one of the questions answered in a new peer reviewed study done by Associate Professor Florence Villesèche from Copenhagen Business School‘s Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy.
Together with Professor Jakob Lauring from Aarhus University, she has collected data from more than 1,000 academic leaders from universities in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Holland.
Through questionnaires, the leaders were asked to provide information about the gender balance in their teams, as well as rate the openness to diversity and work performance of their teams.
“Our results show that openness to diversity is positively related to team performance, and that this relation is strongest in teams that are closest to a 50/50 balance between men and women,” says Florence Villesèche.
Teams with gender balance perform better
More specifically, the leaders in the study were asked to rate their teams
in regards to elements such as general performance, quality of assignments, ability
to meet deadlines, and ability to have good relations with colleagues.
Openness to diversity was assessed through the leaders’ rating of their team members’ openness willingness to listen and learn from colleagues who have different work values or motivations.
After analyzing the answers on these subjects and relating them to the number of women vs. men in each team, the researchers conclude that teams with an even 50/50 gender balance strengthens the positive correlation between openness and team performance from an average of 0.146 to 0.261 which amounts to a 78 percent increase.
However, if the gender balance is 20/80 the positive correlation between performance and openness drops by about 33 percent.
This means that the teams with a more balanced gender composition are more likely to reap the benefits of openness to diversity, but also that the open attitude is still something than has a positive relation to performance regardless of team composition.
So it’s really all about having both the work culture and the balance in place, Florence Villeseche explains:
“More women in a team does not mechanically affect the performance as has been argued in the past. Instead, the openness to diversity and gender balance in the team is key. This means that teams consisting of 90 percent women and 10 percent men do not perform as well as teams with a 50/50 balance. So it’s not a question of simply bringing more women into these teams, it’s about work climate, culture, and balance” she says.
Women are not magical fairies
The result of the study challenges some people’s stereotypical perception of the relation between gender balance, diversity and workplace team performance.
“We would like to go beyond the discussion of ‘we need more women in leading, intellectually demanding positions or not’ and broaden the debate. Women are not a homogeneous mass or magical fairies who have the ability to improve the environment in a workspace or directly impact the bottom line regardless of context,” she says.
Most companies today luckily increasingly consist of a mix between men and women, so it’s important that we work on trying to understand how gender diversity affects the dynamics and performance of a team and under which conditions, thinks Florence Villeseche.
Still, she underscores the enduring inequality problems in regards to equal pay, promotions and few women in leading positions.
“Other than these prevalent issues, there is a tendency towards, for example, men being doctors and women being nurses. We are still affected by some normative understandings of male- and female jobs and what the hierarchy is between them, which we have to try to get rid of,” she says.
Leaders should encourage employees to try new ideas
Even though the study is based on questionnaires with academic leaders at universities, parallels can be drawn to other workplaces where knowledge-intensive work takes place, Florence Villeseche states.
Therefore, leaders in public and private companies should consider how to make work conditions the best possible to increase team performance:
“One of the ways to do that is to consider the gender balance in your work-teams. It would be even better to simultaneously consider how to foster a work culture were employees have an open attitude towards other people’s ideas, as this could mean a lot for the overall performance,” Florence Villesèche explains.
In addition to that, you have to remember to let your employees take risks based on diverse input and think outside the box:
“Often, the new and groundbreaking ideas happen when we go out of our comfort zone and aren’t sure what will happen next,” she ends.
Pic: Tim Mossholder