Another Reason Equity Matters

May 23 2011 Published by under [Brain&Behavior]

My other site, AWEnow (Academic Women for Equality Now) examines gender issues in academia, particularly academic medicine. This week begins grade cards for individual colleges of medicine in the US. I hope by organizing data in a friendlier format than  scholarly papers that the public will become more aware of these inequalities. Defining the problem is the first step in solving it, after all.

Discrimination against women is wrong, and we should pursue equity on these grounds alone. However, a research summary in the June issue of Harvard Business Review suggests that inclusion of women will improve performance in group endeavors.

The finding: There’s little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members. But if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.

The research: Professors Woolley and Malone, along with Christopher Chabris, Sandy Pentland, and Nada Hashmi, gave subjects aged 18 to 60 standard intelligence tests and assigned them randomly to teams. Each team was asked to complete several tasks—including brainstorming, decision making, and visual puzzles—and to solve one complex problem. Teams were given intelligence scores based on their performance. Though the teams that had members with higher IQs didn’t earn much higher scores, those that had more women did.

The figure summarizes their results nicely. While all-female groups may show diminished group performance, the general trend showed higher group performance with higher proportions of women.

Of course, you cannot take advantage of this research if you don't have enough women to populate your workgroups.

The authors have replicated this finding in two studies now. They agree that these data are unexpected and, perhaps, counterintuitive. They go on to speculate a bit about what this all means:

You realize you’re saying that groups of women are smarter than groups of men.

Woolley: Yes. And you can tell I’m hesitating a little. It’s not that I don’t trust the data. I do. It’s just that part of that finding can be explained by differences in social sensitivity, which we found is also important to group performance. Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do. So what is really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.

So having more women may not just be the right thing to do; it may be the smart thing to do in academia and other businesses.


2 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Alternatively, as long as academia selects expressly for people with low social sensitivity, they will never maximize the benefits of including women. Also, all faculty parking committee decisions will be hell.

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