Women tend to undervalue their contributions to team efforts when working with men, new research suggests.
A study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and New York University discovered that the amount of credit women give themselves when working on a team project depends on who their teammates are. Specifically, women tend to devalue their contributions when working in groups with men, but not with other women, which researchers say is another reason why women still tend to be underrepresented at the highest echelons of many organizations.
As part of the study, researchers asked participants to work remotely with another person on tasks traditionally associated with a male role: acting as a managing supervisor at an investment company. When given positive group feedback, the female participants gave more credit to their male teammates and took less credit themselves. They would only credit themselves with success in the task when working with a male if their individual role in the task was clear.
One of the study's authors, Michelle Haynes of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, noted however, that when their partner was another woman, their contributions weren't devalued. She said that aspect of the findings is critical because it debunks the notion that the results are simply a function of women being modest in groups.
"It underscores how the expectations women hold of themselves, and those they work with, influence how they process group feedback," Haynes said. "Furthermore, it reveals that gender continues to play a role in how individuals derive these performance expectations."
Haynes said the results prove that sometimes outcomes and performance — no matter how stellar — are not enough to trump the biasing effects of stereotypes, particularly when the nature of individual contribution is unclear. She said if women view their own contributions less favorably than they regard the contribution of their male co-workers, it is likely to impact how they view their effectiveness at work and the degree to which they are likely to vie for competitive projects and promotions.
"This is one of many factors, among a great many, that may hinder women's earning power and career progress," Haynes said.
The study, co-authored by Madeline E. Heilman of New York University, was recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, a journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.