“It was ‘a man’s work’ and I just didn’t like working with those incompetent women….”
Research shows, even though it’s now 2013, that stereotypes of women as passive, not ambitious, and not energetic continue to abound. Researchers wondered whether the proportion of women in a mixed-gender group doing a male-stereotyped task would affect gender-related evaluations of the group process.
Researchers recruited 110 students (71 women, 39 men) enrolled in a graduate level introductory management course. The average age of the participants was 26.4 years and 52% of them were White. The 110 participants were divided into 22 different five-person groups. The number of women was varied in the groups: 2 of the groups had two women among the 5 workers, 13 groups had 3 women, and 7 groups had 4 out of 5 female workers. They were assigned a group task to “build a replica of a complex model made of Legos”. They were given 30 minutes to plan a strategy and then 30 minutes to build their replica. Once they believed their replica was complete, they presented it to the judges. If it was not accurate, it was returned to them without feedback on flaws.
Following successful completion of the replica, they filled out questionnaire about their experience working with the group. Ten weeks later, they were asked one question via a web-based questionnaire: “To what extent would you be willing to work with your Legoperson team on a graded group project?”. And here is what the researchers found:
The proportion of women in the group (whether 2 members, three members, or four members in the 5 person group) had no relation to performance on building the Lego replica.
In groups that had higher proportions of female members, group members rated each other as having contributed LESS to the task completion. (It did not matter if the rater was male or female. The more women in the group, the lower the level of individual contributions was perceived to be to task completion.)
In groups that had higher proportions of female members, group members also rated the group itself as less effective. (Again, it did not matter if the rater was male or female. The higher the proportion of women in the group, the less effective the group was rated.)
Finally, in the follow-up question task (to which 65% responded) groups with higher proportions of women were less willing to work together again. (And again, it didn’t matter if the rater was male or female. If there were more women in the group, members didn’t want to work together again.)
Let’s say that again. No matter if you were a male group member or a female group member–belonging to a group with a higher proportion of women and being assigned a male-stereotyped task meant you thought more negatively of individual group members, that you had a negative sense of group effectiveness, and that you were less willing to work with the group again. And all this when there was no difference in the actual objective effectiveness of the group in terms of task completion: all groups performed equally well, but the groups with more women felt less good about it.
It’s a disturbing study. Men denigrate women. Women denigrate women. The researchers suggest that perhaps it is because gender composition has impact on how the group functions so that even high-functioning teams with higher proportions of women may not wish to work together again.
Or, it could be that men and women members of groups with predominantly more women are evaluated negatively “by association”. That is, they are in a group largely composed of women and so are all negatively evaluated by each other. Perhaps, as the researchers say, it’s a case of “catching stigma” from all those women.
And all this with no actual difference in objective outcome. It’s all about subjectivity. How do I feel about this group and perceive this group’s effectiveness? It’s sobering to consider the impact of gender composition on work groups, special project groups, and on juries.
While more research is obviously essential, it highlights the importance of educating jurors (and work groups) on what is needed for successful task completion. The jury in the Rod Blagojevich trial was 11 women and 1 man and that jury was widely lauded for effective function. Given this research, it would be curious how the individual members of that jury would rate their group function, and whether they would like to work together again.
West, T., Heilman, M., Gullett, L., Moss-Racusin, C., & Magee, J. (2012). Building blocks of bias: Gender composition predicts male and female group members’ evaluations of each other and the group Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48 (5), 1209-1212 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.04.012