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Teamwork May be Key to Closing Gender Gap

competition-sq2Confidence and skills are not enough. Teamwork may be the key to closing the so-called gender competition gap.

That is one of the conclusions reached in a Loyola Marymount University study by Jennifer Pate, associate professor of economics and chair of the department, and Andrew Healy, associate professor of economics.

Their results suggest that when faced with competing as an individual-whether in the workplace or the political arena-women are less likely to pursue a goal, and men are more likely to take it on. But when teamwork is involved, the gap between the sexes closes. The study was published in the September issue of England-based The Economic Journal.

This phenomenon results in glaring inefficiencies in organizations and politics. Pate and Healy’s research points to an explanation: Many well-qualified women do not pursue leadership positions because of the need to compete as individuals for those jobs. For instance, the economists note that in 2008, just 2.8 percent of firms in the Standard & Poor’s 500 were led by female CEOs.

“It’s a female tendency to not enter a competition, even when you are high quality relative to the task that’s being assigned,” Pate said. “It explains a lot when you think about male dominance in particular areas. ... Our studies showed clearly that, whether they were paired with men or women, working in teams closes that gap by two-thirds.”

qThe study was conducted at LMU during 2007. A group of students was given a series of tasks as individuals and also were randomly assigned to teams. When given the option of entering a tournament-style task on an individual basis, 81 percent of men opted in, while only 28 percent of the women joined. But when a team element was included, 67 percent of the males joined, while 45 percent of the females did so.

The professors’ research also suggests a way to bridge the gap: Design environments that “reduce inequities by focusing on teams,” said Pate. “You might be able to get the highest efficiency out of your top-performing women if you have them working in teams.”

One real-world instance of that concept in action can be found in Germany, where candidates for political office run as a ticket, rather than individually, resulting in a higher percentage of women participating at the highest levels.