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Women professionals work splendidly together but prefer to be where the men are, new study finds

June 1, 2004

For more information, contact: Benjamin Haimowitz, HHaimowitz@aol.com

The adage that "opposites attract" may be true enough when it comes to romance. But in the workaday world of earning a living, a long-standing piece of conventional wisdom is that people prefer to work with members of their own gender than with members of the opposite sex.

Now a new study suggests that, while this is true enough for men, it is much less so for women -- at least 21st-century professional women.

The study in the?April/May 2004?issue of the Academy of Management Journal found that women professionals belonging to all-female work teams were far more likely to want transfers from their groups than men belonging to all-male teams. On a scale of 1 (extremely unlikely to transfer) to 7 (extremely likely to transfer), men had a mean score of 2.69 compared a whopping 4.93 for women.

Paradoxically, though, men's happiness to be on all-male teams did not translate conspicuously into commitment to the company, enthusiasm for their work, or a spirit of team cooperativeness. On all three measures, women on all-female teams scored significantly higher than men on all-male teams.

What then accounts for women's unhappiness with all-female teams? It's mainly a matter of status, according to the study's co-authors, Jennifer A. Chatman of the University of California, Berkeley, and Charles A. O'Reilly of Stanford University.

As Profs. Chatman and O'Reilly put it: "Because of historical status differences between men and women at work, women may have expressed a greater likelihood of transferring out of all-female groups...in which the chances for advancement may be constrained by being in a female 'ghetto' "

They go on to urge managers to "seek ways of easing the tension women face in choosing between the comfort of homogeneous groups and the status derived from male-dominated group. Such efforts might include providing women in male-dominated groups in particular with social support so that they do not have to trade off comfort for mobility."

The study is based on a survey of 178 employees of a large national clothing manufacturer and retailer who were formally assigned by the company to work in project teams of 3 to 14 members. Each team consisted of professionals, rather than production workers, from such varied functional backgrounds as design, manufacturing, and marketing. Employees were dedicated to only one project team and did the bulk of their work in that team.

Sixty-four percent of the sample consisted of women; 20 percent belonged to racial minorities; and the average age overall was about 37. Over two thirds of the respondents had some college education, and all were white-collar professionals. For purposes of analysis, the teams were divided into four categories each for men and women -- homogeneous, same sex dominates, balanced, and other sex dominates.

In a surprising finding, women were significantly more desirous of transferring from balanced groups (equal numbers of male and female) than from either male-dominated or female-dominated teams; in fact, they were as eager to transfer from balanced groups as from all-female groups. This apparent aversion to balanced groups, the authors surmise, may have to do with the fact that women on these teams feel neither distinctive nor dominant. Only 8 women in the entire sample belonged to balanced groups compared to 48 in homogeneous groups and 48 in female-dominated groups, and the professors conclude the matter warrants further investigation.

Also surprising was the relative lack of company spirit, enthusiasm, and cooperativeness in the all-male groups. This finding leads the authors to observe that "previous research has documented that men are more competitive with one another than are women, reducing the likelihood that high levels of cooperation would emerge in all-male groups...Men may benefit more than women from group process training so that they can function more effectively."

The Academy of Management Journal, a peer-reviewed publication now in its 47th year, is published every other month by the academy, which, with over 14,000 members in 90 countries, is the largest organization in the world devoted to management research and teaching. The Academy's other publications are the Academy of Management Review, the Academy of Management Executive, and Academy of Management Learning and Education.

Media Coverage:
Christian Science Monitor. La Difference. (Monday, May 17, 2004).

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