Rachel Grate
January 21, 2015 10:19 am

Have you ever shared an idea with a group, only to have it shut down and discarded? Have you experienced meetings where everyone talks in circles without actually making any decisions?

It turns out, there’s a cure to these unproductive and super frustrating attempts at teamwork: adding more women to the group.

Carnegie Mellon professor Anita Wooley and a team of MIT researchers wanted to find out what made some teams work so well together while others make little progress. In a series of two studies that began in 2010, they divided 699 people into groups of five and observed their completion of IQ tests and different tasks meant to replicate real-life assignments.

They found that qualities like IQ or extroversion don’t have much of an impact on how effective a group will be. Instead, researchers concluded that success “is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.” In a New York Times article written by the researchers, they explained the correlation because women tended to be better than men at “mind-reading” (which they described as reading others’ emotions).

In other words, women make teams work more effectively by being sensitive to the emotions of other group members, and by making sure everyone’s voice is heard. And these qualities don’t only lead to better results for in-person teamwork: online collaboration also ran smoother with more women involved.

It’s not totally surprising that women add some much-needed balance to group conversations. After all, studies and lived experiences have already shown that groups led by men often ignore a woman’s idea, only to praise the same idea when repeated by a man.

What is surprising is that, given that similar findings have been reinforced time and time again, women are still few and far between in the teams that have power. From boards of companies to politics, teams rather than individuals are increasingly making the decisions that shape our world, and those teams are missing one crucial component: women. Only 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and women hold only 16% of board seats and 18% of Congress. Hopefully studies like this one will show more companies and individuals just how important involving women really is.

Featured image via Salon.com

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