When it comes to leadership in the workplace, work teams made up mostly of women tend to share leadership roles more than those dominated by men, says Jennifer Berdahl, a business professor at U of T’s Joseph L. Rotman School of Management. This, she says, influences how men and women work together on teams.
Berdahl and co-author Cameron Anderson, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, examined the leadership behaviour of 169 students enrolled in an organizational behaviour course. Students were divided into three types of groups: mostly men; equal numbers of men and women; and predominantly women. Each work team chose an organization to study, presented a proposal and wrote a project paper. The students also answered a questionnaire about their preferences for egalitarian or hierarchical structures in groups. “Women tended to prefer egalitarian norms in work groups whereas men favoured more hierarchical structures in groups,” says Berdahl.
The researchers found that all the teams that were predominantly male or female both started off with leadership concentrated in one person. Over time, however, teams with mostly women became more egalitarian; those with mostly men continued taking direction from one person. They also found that the groups with centralized leadership received poorer grades. “In a creative-project team, it’s really important to ensure there is equal opportunity for participation,” says Berdahl.