Research round-up: making the most of top female staff

Business school study probes collective intelligence of groups — and finds competition can backfire

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Companies that appoint more female executives might not be reaping the benefits of that gender diversity because their culture is still too dominated by internal competition rather than collaboration, new business school research suggests.

Academics studied the “collective intelligence” — a measure of a team’s ability to do various tasks — for groups with stable leadership and also in circumstances that encouraged individuals to jostle for position and interrupt each other.

In the latter context, it was found that female-dominated teams did not achieve the collective intelligence boost that previous research in the field would have predicted. The male-dominated groups meshed better when the atmosphere was less collegiate, however.

“Gender diversity benefits do not materialise if the atmosphere is too cut-throat,” says Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, who led the research.

The paper tested a theory derived from a previous study at an unnamed management consultancy, which felt that it was not reaping the benefits of greater gender diversity at senior level — arousing suspicions that its “up or out” approach to career progression might be at the heart of the problem.

Prof Woolley and her fellow researchers — drawn from the Tepper school in Pittsburgh, Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim business school and HEC Paris — will present their findings at the Academy of Management’s annual meeting in Anaheim, California, in August.

Competition and Collective Intelligence: Do Women Always Make Groups Smarter? Anita Williams Woolley, Rosalind Chow, Anna Mayo, Christoph Riedl, Jin Wook Chang

researchroundup@ft.com

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