For women who feel outnumbered by the men on their teams, transparent communication can help break down gendered perceptions and open the door to leadership opportunities within the group, finds new research.
A study recently published in The Leadership Quarterly journal discovered that in work groups that are composed primarily of men, women tend to take on more leadership roles as the group becomes more social.
For the study, researchers assigned nearly 1,000 participants of varying ages to small groups and had them rate which group members emerged as leaders after performing a series of tasks. They replicated the experiment with both short- and long-term groups to verify the results.
The study's authors found that the more extroverted the teams were in terms of talking to each other and asking for help with their projects, the more likely it was for women to be seen as leaders. [See Related Story: Female Leaders Just as Effective as Men]
The study's authors believe the open collaboration allows group members to get to know each other better and see each other's strengths and weaknesses. This in turn helps eliminate the preconceived gender stereotypes that are typically found in the workplace, said Jim Lemoine, the study's lead author and an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo.
"When we first meet people, we tend to categorize them subconsciously based on snap judgments and observations," Lemoine said in a statement. "But the more we get to know people, the less those preconceived ideas matter."
Lemoine also noted that when work teams value communication and increase their interactions with one another, women may have a leadership advantage, since groups choose leaders based on who best exemplifies their shared values.
The study's results have important implications for businesses looking to develop more women leaders. Lemoine said instead of having teams that are isolated and driven by goals, businesses wanting more women to take charge need to develop a culture where they are more opportunities for employees to get to know each other and collaborate on projects.
"When teams foster a culture of open communication and teamwork, it allows new leaders to step forward and diverse perspectives to be heard," he said.
The study was co-authored by Ishani Aggarwal, assistant professor in the Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration in Rio de Janeiro, and Laurens Bujold Steed, a doctoral candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology.