Women benefit from working in woman-dominated teams, study shows

Teams with a critical mass of women lets them 'lean in' and aim for science careers
Parents, educators and business managers will benefit from paying attention to team makeup to ensure that women reach their full potential when engaged in learning teams and other group activities. Credit: UMass Amherst

For years, educators, policymakers and institutional leaders have sounded an alarm about the fact that fewer girls and women enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields than their male peers, and more girls and women leave, but few attempts have been made to identify and rigorously test remedies that can effectively close the gender gap.

Now a research team led by Nilanjana Dasgupta at the University of Massachusetts Amherst reports one promising intervention, based on their research study of 120 undergraduate . They found among other things that , particularly first-year students, participate more actively and feel less anxious when they are able to work in small groups or "microenvironments" that are mostly female or that have equal numbers of compared to mostly male groups.

She explains, "The important thing we found in this experiment is that even in learning environments where women are a tiny minority, if we can create work or learning teams, basically small groups with a high percentage of women, those promote women's success by reducing worry and anxiety, increasing women willingness to speak up and 'lean in,' to use Facebook CEO Cheryl Sandberg's phrase. This allows women to speak up and not worry what others think, increases confidence about their ability and ultimately lets them aspire to a career in these fields."

Results of this National Science Foundation-supported study appear today in an early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For this work, the researchers randomly assigned female engineering students to one of three, four-person groups of varying composition, 75 percent, 50 percent, or 25 percent women. Each group had one real study participant, always female, who was unaware that the others were engineering research assistants (RA) trained to behave in a consistent manner. The RAs evaluated the real participants' verbal behavior in the team.

The participant privately reported her worries, anxieties, confidence in her engineering ability, how visible she felt in the group, and her career aspirations after the team work sessions. Dasgupta and colleagues tested competing hypotheses about which gender mix would benefit women most.

The researchers found that in male-dominated fields like engineering where teamwork is common, the gender composition of small teams plays a major role in women's success. Having a high concentration of women in engineering teams allows women, particularly first-year students, to participate more actively, shrug off worries, feel confident, and aspire toward engineering careers after the team experience compared to other teams where women were a small minority or the only one.

A second interesting finding is that although teams with equal numbers of men and women reduced women's worries and anxieties in engineering, they were not sufficient to encourage speaking up. Only in teams with a majority of female peers did women show a substantial uptick in speaking up, the lead author notes. This was true for first-year students as much as for advanced .

Dasgupta, "My take on these findings is that gender parity helped in some ways, but it couldn't address all the problems. We often assume that if the playing field is level, with equal numbers of women and men, women will participate. But in fields where strong already exist, it's not enough. Overriding gender stereotypes sometimes requires creating 'microenvironments' that have more than gender parity. This may involve the occasional experience of working in small teams with a high concentration of female peers that encourage women to jump in, speak up and help their team solve technical problems."

She adds, "For young women in STEM fields who are a tiny minority in their majors, we need to create work teams or learning teams where they can focus on learning and mastery without worrying about what others think of them. I think these findings have important implication for many male-dominated fields like physical sciences, computing, technology and business. I use engineering as a case in point in this study, but the main take aways can be generalized."

These results have implications for three key groups, the UMass Amherst researcher says. For educators, "it means when teaching involves team learning, which is a big trend now in K-12, college and beyond, in male-dominated fields, we need to pay attention to team makeup to ensure that women reach their full potential."

For business managers, "it means they should pay attention to the makeup of their project teams to ensure that female employees' talents are being used, not lost, and that women feel empowered to speak up."

For parents, "it means ensuring that their daughters have a critical mass of other girls around them when they are involved in after-school activities and summer programs that focus on science and technology."


Explore further

Study supports new explanation of gender gaps in academia

More information: Female peers in small work groups enhance women's motivation, verbal participation, and career aspirations in engineering, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1422822112
Citation: Women benefit from working in woman-dominated teams, study shows (2015, April 6) retrieved 22 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-04-women-benefit-woman-dominated-teams.html
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Apr 06, 2015
DUH...the same could be said about race...people support their "kind" at the expense of reason....its sad

But really, this shows that women know they need an in go get standing. That "in" is a sympathetic person who is strikingly similar.

but think about...where did the term, "stop being a bitch" come from?

Apr 06, 2015
True Bongstar. Women can only compete against themselves as we're all different. Now if men tried to do this = you're a bunch of sexist pigs the left and the media would scream.

Apr 07, 2015
Feminism has failed. Women are NOT the same as men.

Apr 07, 2015
How sexist!

" "it means ensuring that their daughters have a critical mass of other girls around them when they are involved in after-school activities and summer programs that focus on science and technology."

Read more at: http://phys.org/n...html#jCp

Apr 07, 2015
Thanks for commenting, gentlemen. It's good to know that people who are part of the problem are at least reading the literature.

Apr 07, 2015
Anyone ask the question that maybe there are men who would work better women?
Also, no mention is made of the personality types of men or women.

Apr 07, 2015
.the same could be said about race...people support their "kind" at the expense of reason....its sad
It's normal, this is for example the reason, why mixed race police patrols are operating in racially mixed quarters. The fact, you don't see any reason in separated evolution doesn't mean, no such reason exist there. The people tend to form racially uniform groups spontaneously in the same way, like any other species as it accelerates the adaptation and evolution. Only the primitive fast breeding organisms like the bacteria can avoid the necessity of species formation. This still doesn't imply, that one race is superior to another ones and it shouldn't be therefore ignored with liberal proponents of multiculturalism. It just means, that races and cultures form sorta inmiscible phases, until they're not destroyed with many generations of forceful inbreeding.

Apr 07, 2015
The people tend to form racially uniform groups

More likely they form culturally uniform groups not based upon race.

Apr 07, 2015
So would the inverse be true that men perform better in male dominated teams? Or is it not politically expedient to say that?

Apr 07, 2015
This article is just another excuse for trying to figure out why girls don't STEM.

Larry Summers of Harvard was fired for having the audacity to assert women are not the same as men.

Apr 13, 2015
To a certain extend there are benefits in women working in woman-dominated teams like engineering, scientist, and etc. But in a sense it seems to mostly isolate the two genders; just by promoting the idea women should work in a woman -dominated team would not build equality of genders. Why can't we promote an environment not focusing wholesomely on the genders? To work in a sufficient and professional way of seeing each other as fellow scientist, engineers, and etc rather than 'boys' and 'girls'.

But then left to ask what is the factors, influencing us to associate ourselves with these ideals in genders and stereotypes? Media? Society? Feminism?

To create equality in both genders is not mostly separating the two but to ensure that women do not see themselves as 'girls in a male team' but rather a scientist and etc in a team. And guys not seeing women as 'women'. But then how do we do it? It takes time. Maybe by changing stuff about gender stereotype?

Apr 13, 2015
I like to address that I believe that it is part of being mature. To eliminate someone's difference and judge them base on their skills, personality and ability. To not associate others and you as boys, girls,homosexuals and even colour of your skin but their actions, words, skills, and personality especially in professional environment like workplaces. Though I am an adolescent who has not have a complete concept of maturity or hardly any, still believe that it is a part of maturity. Or maybe you can label as something else like equality? Overall I believe that it is part of maturity or I think it a part of it. If not then equality for all?

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