Gender Balance for the Win

gender balance

By Yvonne Milosevic

Do you want your team to develop the best products, ideas, or innovations? Then here’s your failproof blueprint for success: aim for gender balance. Not only does it make sense from an equity standpoint, but the data also shows that gender mix on teams affects outcomes.

New research shared in Kellogg Insight from Kellogg School of Management professors Brian Uzzi and Benjamin Jones has built upon the findings of their 2007 paper regarding scientific teams. Back then, the duo looked at whether larger collectives outperformed smaller ones. Now, Uzzi and Jones wanted to see whether the gender mix mattered.

Indeed, it does. Their new paper reveals that mixed-gender teams generate more groundbreaking scientific research than single-gender teams. To reach that conclusion, Jones, Uzzi, and their colleagues analyzed a mind-boggling 6.6 million science papers published from 2009-2019.

They first used an algorithm to infer authors’ genders from their names and then calculated the impact and novelty of each paper when it was published. Measuring the number of citations that the paper received determined its impact. To gauge originality, the researchers assessed the citations within each paper.

The researchers found that mixed-gender teams significantly outperformed same-gender groups on novelty and impact.

“If I see in the reference section of a paper that they cite Leonardo da Vinci and Einstein—and Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci have been cited together in a lot of other papers—we’d consider that a conventional mixture,” Uzzi explains. “But if Einstein is paired for the first time with Maya Angelou in the references of a scientific paper, that would be a novel combination.”

Gender Balance Equals Greater Creativity

The researchers found that mixed-gender teams of six or more researchers were 9.1% more likely to produce a novel paper. When it came to creating a highly cited article, that distinction climbed to 14.6% more likely compared to a same-gender team of the same size.

gender balance

But that impact gets further amplified when there’s gender balance. In fact, Uzzi says, “the more gender-balanced the team is, the better the team does.” Meaning a team of three men and three women was more likely to produce novel and highly cited research than one with four men and two women.

 “Men and women are both part of the recipe for success in science. We’re better together.”—Brian Uzzi

Much evidence supports the theory that diverse teams create more innovative ideas. When people from different cultural backgrounds come together, their unique perspectives lead to greater creativity. In the same way, gender diversity can contribute to a broader range of ideas and insights.

“The benefits of gender diversity are kind of hidden” and underutilized, Uzzi says. “People are not taking advantage of this potential approach to doing better science.”

But not people like Brian Uzzi. In his lab, he strives for gender-diverse research teams. “I do feel like it leads to better outcomes,” he says, “and I think it helps to make the process more generative and fun.”


Want more recommended reads? Check out: Use Improv to Help You Lead Better and The Best Way to Reduce Gender Bias.