It’s considered a great idea to hire women to boost productivity in the workplace, but looks like it’s going to be some time before they’re viewed as great when it comes to boosting creativity in the office.
A new report from Duke University has found that men are viewed as more “creative thinkers” in the workplace than women.
Researchers conducted various studies about why people view creative thinking more common with men than women.
“Our research shows that beliefs about what it takes to ‘think creatively’ overlap substantially with the unique content of male stereotypes, creating systematic bias in the way that men and women’s creativity is evaluated,” said lead researcher Devon Proudfoot of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.
Proudfoot’s team found that “when people think about creative thinkers they tend to think of characteristics typically ascribed to men but not women, including qualities like risk-taking, adventurousness, and self-reliance”.
To investigate the link between gender and creativity in the real world, the researchers examined performance evaluations for senior-level executives enrolled in an MBA programme. The participants, 100 men and 34 women, were evaluated on their innovative thinking by both their direct reports and supervisors.
In examining the supervisors’ evaluations, the researchers concluded that male executives tended to be judged as more innovative than their female counterparts were.
However, when rated by their direct bosses, these same executives were rated as similarly innovative in their thinking.
“The authors interpreted this pattern of ratings as evidence of stereotyping on the part of the supervisors, as previous research has shown that those in relatively higher power positions are more likely to rely on stereotypes when forming judgments about others.”
In another study within the report, the researchers asked 125 participants to read a passage about either a male or a female manager whose strategic plan was described as more or less risky – this trait was classified in the report as “stereotypically masculine”.
As predicted, the male manager was perceived as more creative when his behaviour was described as risky than when it wasn’t, but there was no such effect for the female manager.
And the male manager who adopted a risky strategic plan was viewed as more creative than the female manager who espoused the risky plan.
The researchers also found that the male manager who took risks was viewed as having more agency—that is, as being more adventurous, courageous, and independent—and this boosted perceptions of his creativity.
Increased agency and creativity, in turn, led people to view the male manager as more deserving of rewards.
“This result suggests that gender bias in creativity judgments may affect tangible economic outcomes for men and women in the workplace,” the researchers wrote.
“In suggesting that women are less likely than men to have their creative thinking recognised, our research not only points to a unique reason why women may be passed over for corporate leadership positions, but also suggests why women remain largely absent from elite circles within creative industries,” said Proudfoot.