“Mixed-gender teams generate more novel and influential work than same-gender teams.” This is according to organizational psychologist, Adam Grant. According to a 2002 tweet by Grant, “Similarity breeds groupthink [while] variety fuels deeper reflection and broader learning”. Grant cites a recent study on 6.6 million biomedical science papers, authored by both men and women, which confirms that mixed-gender teams perform better.
Let’s take a closer look at the results of the study and at how you can use the findings to your advantage in your creative collaborations.
Proving That Mixed-Gender Teams Perform Better
According to the aforementioned study, mixed-gender teams in biomedical research performed better than same-gender teams, in terms of both novelty and impact. In this context, “novelty” refers to the new knowledge that the biomedical research teams produced through their research, and “impact” denoted the extent to which their research was cited. Interestingly, the study also found that teams with an equal Number of men and women benefit the most from working together.
Additionally, the authors explored 20 million papers in scientific fields other than medicine. They saw the same results in these fields. But how are these results, which are from the sciences, relevant to creativity?
How Gender Diversity Might Affect Creativity
Brian Uzzi, one of the study’s authors, explains that “we think that gender affects the process by which scientists generate ideas and then select the best ideas to follow.” An article by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University elaborates on this insight, noting that “perhaps the exchange of ideas is more lively, creative, and constructive in a gender-diverse group.”
Why creative collaboration can be tricky
The fact is, it can be tricky to work within any creative or artistic team, regardless of the gender of their members. As explained in an article on the subject in the Harvard Business Review, 15% – 20% of creative workers view themselves as creators of unique solutions. As such, creatives may resist incorporating others’ ideas and solutions. They “feel pride in producing work that bears their unique stamp”. This means that they require a greater degree of control during the different stages of the project they are working on.
Nevertheless, when it comes to solving problems, most creative types are very receptive to their colleagues’ ideas and proposed solutions.
It’s important to bear this in mind when collaborating with creative people. It means that you should adopt an approach that may seem counterintuitive.
How To Improve Creative Collaboration
The Harvard Business Review article provides four suggestions for collaborating with creatives. These ideas, as summarized below, are applicable to both genders:
- Plant seeds instead of being specific.
During your creative collaborations, particularly at the start of a project, it’s helpful to plant seeds for other team members to ponder and grow in their own time. In other words, you should present broad suggestions.
When you are overly specific in your suggestions, you may unwittingly cause artistic team members to feel that their ideas are being stifled or that your ideas are imposed upon them. This may cause them to resist new ideas.
- Keep emotion out of it.
In a creative context, when you share your ideas dispassionately, you’re less threatening to creative workers who prefer a high degree of ownership over their own work. They’re likely to be more receptive to new ideas when the person who is presenting them does so without emotion and attachment to the outcome, which could signify a desire to take over the whole project.
- Delay decisions.
This suggestion ties in with the first one. When you plant seeds for others to consider, you should give them time to mentally chew them over. You might tell them to “give it some thought” or to meet with you at a later stage to discuss it further.
Reassure creative colleagues that you’re on the same wavelength.
Even if you’re not filling a creative role yourself, it’s important to show team members that you’re familiar with some of their previous work and ideas and that you’re interested in what they do.
When creative colleagues feel that you understand and respect their perspective, they will, in turn, respect you. This will make every element of collaborating easier, from showing them how to create a quote, to understanding and implementing any changes to the project along the way.
But what about the gender divide?
Collaborating Creatively With Women Vs. Men
When you’re working with female team members, it’s important to take into account the unwritten rules that society has for the way women “should” speak. Tara Mohr, an expert on women’s leadership and well-being, and the author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead, notes that women are often accused of being too abrasive or too abrupt in their communication when they communicate in the way that men do.
As a result, women are more prone to undermine themselves in their communication. They do this by using more filler words, like “just” and “actually,” by apologizing for asking questions or taking up space in a conversation, and by raising the pitch of their voices so that their statements sound like questions, making them seem uncertain.
A woman who feels free to speak her mind, however, has untold creative potential and a shot at a phenomenal career.
This brings us to our final recommendation for collaborating with creatives:
- Accommodate differences in the way that men and women communicate.
Mohr notes that in the workplace, women can sometimes be more hostile towards other women than men are, particularly when a woman seems abrasive or “not nice”. When collaborating in mixed-gender teams, remember that men and women have different styles of communication.
If you feel a woman is being too direct or too apologetic in their communication, you can help by being understanding and supportive. This means that you should not police her tone but focus on her ideas and the brilliance she may be subconsciously trying to downplay.
Mixed-Gender Teams And Creative Work: A Match Made In Heaven
The research is undeniable.
The best-performing teams, creative or otherwise, are made up of the full spectrum of society. Across the board, teams end up in a creativity rut when they function in a vacuum or within rigid structures. That is why diversity is an absolute must for generating great ideas.
Both the feminine and the masculine touch are essential to a well-balanced team and they have the power to really think outside of the box.
Author – Melanie Robles
Wordplay ninja, article alchemist, and knowledge inquisitor. Melanie Robles is an experienced freelance writer and editor covering a variety of topics. When she’s not consumed by the creative vortex, she spends her time exploring new fields of knowledge to broaden her horizon.