Kelly Kirkham questions whether new research by MIT could lead to a sea change in gender balance in business…
It seems that Phil Davis might have been on to something in 1954’s White Christmas when he said, “It’s cozier, isn’t it? Boy, girl, boy, girl?” At least, MIT seems to think so if their latest reports on diversity at the office are anything to go by.
Last week, MIT economists published their report “Diversity, Social Goods Provision, and Performance in the Firm”, which reveal data indicating that diversity in the office can boost functionality.
This recent study on the workplace merges the social representations in businesses with financial results – an adventure examining gender roles as well as the accompanied economic data.
The issued press release featured Sara Ellison, an MIT economist, comparing office diversity to a baseball team.
“A baseball team entirely composed of catchers could have high esprit de corps, but it would not perform very well on the field,” she said.
Ellison also explains the differences in this particular study, as compared to others in the field.
“There have been a number of studies looking at things like diversity and performance,” she said. “But they don’t always use the [bottom-line] measures of performance that economists might prefer.”
The study focused on eight years of individual-level employee survey data, analyzing large white-collar offices, some female-only, some male-only, and many with both. 60 total offices were scrutinized across the United States. Results seem to be consistent with equality conversations regularly taking place within the media, promoting diversity among those in the workforce.
“Having a more diverse set of employees means you have a more diverse set of skills,” said Ellison. “The more homogeneous offices have higher levels of social capital, but the interesting twist is that … higher levels of social capital are not important enough to cause those offices to perform better. The employees might be happier, they might be more, comfortable, and these might be cooperative places, but they seem to perform less well.”
Within the study, employees were asked about their perception of diversity in the workforce. Most employees claimed that gender diversity was viewed as an important quality when considering their employer, although the data showed differently. Ellison explains,
“In offices where people thought the firm was accepting of diversity, they were happier and more cooperative, but that didn’t translate into any effect on office performance. People may like the idea of a diverse workplace more than they like actual diversity in the workplace.”
This means that while women, as well as men, are comfortable working with other women/men, this does not mean that their productivity keeps pace with comfort levels. In other words, you could say that the ‘he-said, she-said’ is more likely ‘he-said, he-said’ or ‘she-said, she-said’.
Women are slowly climbing the ranks to take their own piece of the pie. Although, women within the workforce seem to fall out at a certain point within their careers, leading to problems in higher ranking levels of management. To equally balance the genders within these offices, there must be a cultural shift.
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, spoke in a TED talk as to why there are fewer women leaders than men. She explains the difference between men and women in the world as follows…
“Women systematically underestimate their own abilities. If you test men and women, and you ask them questions on totally objective criteria like GPA’s, women get it wrong slightly high, and women get it wrong slightly low.”
She elaborates on the concept of women underestimating their own worth,
“If you ask men why they did a good job,they’ll say, “I’m awesome. Obviously. Why are you even asking?” If you ask women why they did a good job, what they’ll say is someone helped them, they got lucky, they worked really hard. Why does this matter? Boy, it matters a lot because no one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table, and no one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve their success, or they don’t even understand their own success.”
Women downplay their success all across the globe, not just on a national level. The Center for American Progress shows that Women are 50.8% of the population, earn 60% of undergraduate and graduate degrees, and yet represent only 14.6% of executive officers, 8.1% of top earners, and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEO’s.
Sandberg explains that continuing a career is a personal choice for women, and admits she doesn’t have the right answer. She states,
“I wish the answer were easy. I wish I could just go tell all the young women I work for, all these fabulous women, “Believe in yourself and negotiate for yourself. Own your own success.”
Follow Sheryl Sandberg’s attempt to ban the word ‘bossy’ from our vocabulary and encourage girls to lead with #BanBossy.
MIT’s latest study marks a certain stride for women in the workforce as well as in hiring practices. If more women in the office means more money in the end, it is reasonable to believe that we will soon be seeing more top level women management.
Opening opportunity for women across the workforce could make for major change across our globe. If more major corporations take part in developing diverse offices, not only will they see better financial results, but we can continue the evolution of equality stemming from the early 1900s.
That’s right ladies, get out your red polka dot bandanas, pump up those muscles, and find your inner Beyonce, because “We Can Do It!”
To read more about gender balance in business, catch up on this blog.