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Avoiding the gender gap

  • Story Highlights
  • New business school study finds mixed sex work groups are more effective
  • Authors say this is true whether they are led by men or women
  • Study urges action to help female executives stay in work
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By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- One of the most consistent long term trends in business education over recent decades has been the ever increasing number of women signing up for MBAs and the like.

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Dressed for business -- but will she get a fair deal?

However, this is not as yet reflected in the upper echelons of corporate management, where the boardrooms remain overwhelmingly male.

In fact, recent research showed that the number of women on the boards of major publicly listed companies in the UK has actually fallen in recent years.

Now, however, innovative research by a leading business school has shown that institutional gender imbalance in a corporation may be more than unfair -- it may also be harming profits.

The study by the London Business School concluded that teams of employees where the gender balance is equal tend to come up with more creative and innovative ideas than groups dominated by either men or women.

The mixed gender groups were on average more likely to experiment, to pool knowledge and to complete their tasks as needed, the report by the school's Lehman Brothers Center for Women in Business says.

This is the case regardless of whether the team leader happens to be male or female, it adds.

The study looked at more than 100 groups of so-called "knowledge workers" at 21 companies across 17 countries.

Lynda Gratton, a professor at the center and principal author of the study, said it appeared that teams work most effectively when there is a balance of genders because people have a tendency to contribute less effectively when they are aware they are in a minority.

"Gender imbalances create a significant deterioration in knowledge-based work with regard to experimentation, knowledge transfer, the capacity to work across functional or business boundaries, and general efficiency," Gratton wrote in a comment piece about the study in the U.K.'s Financial Times newspaper, jointly authored with Lamia Walker, co-director of the center

"These results were consistent, regardless of the sex of the team leader."

The findings go beyond simple lessons of majorities and minorities, the research also found.

It showed that men and women have, on average, different experiences when it comes to a home-work balance and with "spillover" -- how domestic life influences workplace performance. Spillover can be positive as well as negative, as a supportive home life tends to make people better workers.

The study found that whatever the traditional image of a harassed female executive juggling home and work, men tend to experience more negative spillover, often because their female counterparts have already made tough decisions about, for example, having a child early and returning to work or else not having children at all.

Fact Box

FT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Columbia, U.S.
3. Harvard, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. London Business School, UK
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Insead, France/Singapore
8. Stern, NYU, U.S.
9. Tuck, Dartmouth, U.S.
10. Yale, U.S.
Source: Financial Times 2007

Gratton is urging companies to help address gender imbalances, and also to help employees of both sexes balance their domestic and professional lives.

In her article she wrote: "To every chief executive we ask: why, given the evidence that to do so results in suboptimal performance, do you persevere in recruiting disproportionate numbers of men to senior ranks?

"Across most industrial sectors, while 50% of graduates recruited are women, only 30% of managers are women and about 15% of senior executives are women.

"Clearly, there is a leak in the pipeline that filters out many women en route to the corporate suite."

"The executives who continue to ask for a business case should now turn their analytical skills to the management of their own employee base," she added.

"Every chief executive should now see that these actions are a crucial part of their vision of good business." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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