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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Women Key to Successful Startups, Suggest Studies

Groups that include women and men outperform those comprised of only one gender.

  • March 21, 2012

The thing that is often overlooked about diversity is that teams composed of something other than a cognitive monoculture often have a competitive edge over their less-diverse counterparts. Take, for example, gender in tech companies.

Twitter: Run by men, can’t make money. Coincidence?

The inimitable Eric Barker of the must-read social science and psychology blog Barking up the wrong tree has gathered a handful of studies on this subject, and I think of them every time I’m assembling a team.

Granted, this entire enterprise is colored by society’s and my own (ever-shifting) assumptions, so I’m not making any claim whatsoever as to the immutability of the claims made below.

Here are the takeaways:

1. Small teams of two to five members perform better when they include at least one woman.

In a study published in Science, team performance only weakly correlated with average intelligence of members. But there was a great deal of correlation with the average “social sensitivity” of group members.

In an interview published at Mind Hacks, the authors of the study explained that groups ruled over by smart but autocratic personalities were not very effective as a group. In other words, having someone mansplain to you why you should be doing it his way is a recipe for failure.

More: What makes teams smart?

2. In at least one study, teams of three that included one woman outperformed all others.

In the same study, teams of three women performed worse than all other possible combinations. From the abstract: “We observe that three women teams are less aggressive in their pricing strategies, invest less in R&D, and invest more in social sustainability initiatives, than any other gender combination teams.”

More: How does gender affect teamwork at the office?

3. If you want to attract more women to a field / firm, one solution may be to make sure it’s not competitive in the wrong way.

Some people are drawn to extremely competitive environments – countless female entrepreneurs, politicians and celebrities come to mind – but it appears that on average, women may shy away from competitive environments with certain characteristics.

From the abstract:

…[W]omen disproportionately shy away from competitive work settings. Yet, there are important factors that attenuate the gender differences, including whether the job is performed in teams, whether the job task is female-oriented, and the local labor market.

More: Do women avoid competitive work environments?

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