Women More Collaborative in Workteams

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Jobs, Teamwork, Women and Men

Women tend to prefer egalitarian norms while men favour hierarchical structures in work groups

When it comes to leadership in the workplace, work teams made up mostly of women tend to share leadership roles more than teams dominated by men, says a University of Toronto organizational behaviour expert.

"Women tend to prefer egalitarian norms in work groups whereas men favour hierarchical structures," says Jennifer Berdahl, business professor at U of T's Rotman School of Management and lead author of the study published in the March issue of Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice. This, in turn, influences how men and women work together on teams, she adds.

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Berdahl and co-author Professor Cameron Anderson, of New York University, examined the leadership behaviour of 169 students enrolled in an organizational behaviour course. Students were divided into three types of groups: work teams made up mostly of men, teams with equal numbers of men and women and teams that were predominantly female. Each group chose an organization to study, present a proposal to the rest of the class and write a project paper, which was graded by the instructor. They also answered a questionnaire about their preferences for egalitarian or hierarchical structures in groups.

For work teams that were predominantly male or female, the researchers found that both groups started off with leadership concentrated in one person. Over time, however, teams with mostly women became more egalitarian while teams with mostly men continued taking direction from one person. They also found that teams who centralized their leadership received poorer grades. "In a creative project team, it's really important to ensure there is equal opportunity for participation," says Berdahl.

The study was funded by a research grant from the University of California at Berkeley.

By Suelan Toye

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