Fix the Game – Not the Dame: A Team Intervention for Gender Equality in Leadership

In majority male teams, both male and female team members rated male leaders as more exemplary than female leaders, but this effect was eliminated in more gender-balanced teams.

FindingsMethodology

Stereotypical beliefs about good leadership are gendered in favor of men. Similarly, local stereotypes typically also converge in men’s favor due to the masculinity and male majority of many managerial positions. However, leaders are not stand-alone actors but extensions of the group, which means leaders’ evaluations may depend on how representative they are of their group.

Thus, in this randomized field experiment, the authors examine whether intervening at the team level restores gender equality in followers’ evaluations of male and female leaders by potentially trumping global, societal stereotypes with local, group prototypes. That is, men are generally viewed as more prototypical leaders than women, including when leading majority male teams; however, men and women should be similarly prototypical leaders when leading gender-balanced teams because both leaders are representative of the group.

As robustness checks, the authors also examine leaders’ own conceptions of their leadership qualities and leaders’ ratings according to follower gender to rule out alternative explanations for their findings.

Findings

As expected, team members rated male leaders as more exemplary than female leaders in majority male teams, but not in gender-balanced teams.

  • On average, men were rated as more exemplary leaders than women (male leaders = 4.92, female leaders = 4.76), a difference that was larger in majority male teams (male leaders = 4.94, female leaders = 4.66).
  • However, this male leadership advantage was eliminated in gender-balanced teams (male leaders = 4.88, female leaders = 4.87).
  • The tipping point for equality in leader evaluations occurred when the team was comprised of approximately 40% women.
  • Male and female leaders reported similar ratings of their own leadership qualities regardless of their team’s gender composition, suggesting the effect of team gender composition is not driven by leaders.
  • The team gender composition effect also influenced male and female followers in a similar way, suggesting the effect of team gender composition is not driven primarily by female followers.

In summary, men were perceived as more exemplary leaders than women, despite all leaders receiving the same leadership training and reporting no differences in their self-conceptions as leaders either before or after the orientation event. However, in more gender-balanced teams, followers rated male and female leaders as equally exemplary leaders, eliminating this male advantage. These findings support team composition as a strategy to enable gender equality in leadership evaluations by design.

Methodology

The authors conducted a randomized field experiment of 927 group members and 70 group leaders among newly created student teams from business, economics, and informatics at a large university in Western Europe. Team members and leaders were randomly assigned to majority male (20% women) or more gender-balanced (40-50% women) teams. Surveys were completed after team members spent approximately 6 hours with their teams and leaders, including several leader-organized orientation events. Group members and leaders answered perceptual questions about the leader’s prototypicality on 6-point response scales, including whether the leader demonstrated the qualities and behaviors of a typical leader and fit the image of a leader.