Teams of women lose their creative edge when forced to compete

Want to kill creativity of women in teams? Fire up the competition: Study finds gender stereotypes continue to affect workplace behavior

A new study from Washington University in St. Louis finds that this is only true when women work on teams that aren’t competing against each other. Force teams to go head to head and the benefits of a female approach evaporate.

Teams of women lose their creative edge when forced to compete according to research from Olin Business School professor Markus Baer at Washington University in st. Louis. Published in the May-June issue of the journal Organization Science, the study is titled “Intergroup Competition as a Double-Edged Sword: How Sex Composition Regulates the Effects of Competition on Group Creativity.”

“Intergroup competition is a double-edged sword that ultimately provides an advantage to groups and units composed predominantly or exclusively of men, while hurting the creativity of groups composed of women,” said Markus Baer, PhD, lead author of the study and associate professor of organizational behavior at Olin Business School.

The study suggests that men benefit creatively from going head-to-head with other groups, while groups of women operate better in less competitive situations. As intergroup competition heats up, men become more creative and women less so.

“Women contributed less and less to the team’s creative output when the competition between teams became cutthroat, and this fall-off was most pronounced in teams composed entirely of women,” Baer said.

The findings are counterintuitive because previous research has shown that women generally are more collaborative than men when working in teams.

“If teams work side by side, women tend to perform better and even outperform men – they’re more creative,” Baer said.

“As soon as you add the element of competition though, the picture changes. Men under those circumstances gel together. They become more interdependent and more collaborative, and women just do the opposite.

“So, what is true for non-competitive circumstances, flips when it gets competitive,” he said