What do 6.6 million medical papers tell us about the connection between gender diversity and team performance?
In a recent study co-authored by Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations Tanya Yuan Tian and published in PNAS, the research shows that in the field of medicine, gender-diverse teams publish more highly impactful and novel papers than same-gender teams. While gender diversity in teams proves a critical factor in research novelty and impact, these teams remain underrepresented and the significance of gender-diverse collaboration remains under-acknowledged.
The significance of this study is its scale and depth, over 6.6 million papers from 15,000 journals. “We conducted the largest-scale investigation of research teams in the medical sciences to examine whether gender diversity helps scientific novelty and impact,” Professor Tian states, “and what we found was, yes, it does.” Gender-diverse teams are teams that have a mixture of women and men, and are teams not just made up of all men or all women, respectively. The study builds on research that shows trends in increasing team collaboration, and increasing participation of female researchers in the sciences over the past 20 years. Professor Tian, whose research is focused on team work dynamics as well as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), suggests that, though there have been a variety of studies that would affirm the team’s findings, the depth and concreteness of this quantitative evidence is important for informing DEI initiatives and underscoring a key factor in producing novel and impactful research.
Mixed-gender teams publish papers that are up to 7% more novel and 14.6% more likely to be upper-tail papers than papers published by same-gender teams. Novelty and impact in gender-diverse team research can be described as the likeliness of a paper to create new combinations of knowledge that have not been joined, or rarely joined, in previous research and the likeliness of a paper to be a “home-run paper” indicated by its citation impact. Choosing to study the field of medicine because of its size and variation, the findings of the study hold true for most of the subfields in medical science, which according to Professor Tian and her team “means our findings are solid, and the benefit of gender diversity is generalizable across the subfields in medicine.” Interestingly, and importantly, Professor Tian states that when comparing this data with a model that derives the expectations of chance, “gender-diverse teams remain underrepresented.”
According to the study, “the underrepresentation of gender-diverse teams may reflect research showing that women receive less credit for their successes than do men teammates, which in turn inhibits the formation of gender-diverse teams and women’s success in receiving grants, prizes, and promotions.” This study highlights the significance of gender-diverse collaboration, as an important step that may influence policy and action, promoting more effective teams who produce better work.
Experiment and Method
Exploring gender in science through the lens of teamwork, the results point to a potentially transformative approach for thinking about and capturing the value of gender diversity in science. Most importantly, these benefits of gender diversity in research teams persist when considering a host of controls and potential related factors, such as different expertise, networks, and team structure. To effectively survey such a large data set the team used an algorithmic approach that supported a validated name to gender inference method to compute a probability estimate of an author’s gender based on the author’s first and last name. The estimates of the algorithm were consistent with studies that use self reported gender information.
What Makes a Good Team?
The intricacies of gender balance in team dynamics is an exciting area for future research, which Professor Tian is eager to explore. “Answering the question of what makes a good team is complex and difficult to speculate about. It depends very much on the process of devising the study as well as the context. Something unique about our project is the number of controls that our research accounted for, that still allowed us to confirm our results.” According to the study, “the strong positive association between mixed-gender teams and team success can only partly be explained by expertise, network, career age, or international measures, suggesting that a rich set of factors, including factors as yet unveiled in the literature, may be at work in the research advantages of mixed-gender teams.”
Professor Tian and team cite prior research that suggests that, “women on a team improve information-sharing processes on teams, such as turn taking” and add that women and men may simply provide varying perspectives on research questions that augment and contribute to the process. Furthermore, there may be synergies specific to gender diverse teams, “that are more than the additivity of team processes and information typically associated with all-women and all-men teams” the study suggests. Professor Tian, herself a member of a gender-diverse research team, commented that, though it’s hard to pin down exactly what makes a good team, Tian describes that when a team is working well together, “Something just happens. It’s like magic.”
Professor Tian’s research unifies a methodological approach that bridges sociological perspectives and the availability of new data and computational methods to study strategy and organizational behavior. As a new member of the Center for Business Education and Research (CBER), Professor Tian’s interdisciplinary research methodology that combines approaches from business, liberal arts and the sciences will be right at home in a center dedicated to interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation.