Gender diversity plays an undeniable role in the workplace, and now a new study led by Northwestern University behavioral scientists supports that in the realm of scientific research. In particular, the study found that gender-diverse teams actually strengthen overall output.
Examining 6.6 million papers published from more than 15,000 medical journals worldwide since 2000, the study’s authors found that mixed-gender teams produced more novel and innovative work than all-women or all-men teams of comparable size, on average. In fact, the teams that had an exact 50:50 ratio, or close to it, had the best chance of these strong results.
The findings are generalizable across 45 medical subfields, with special attention given to vital world issues. Yet the researchers also found that mixed-gender teams are currently underrepresented, revealing an opportunity for progress in both medical research and inclusion.
“If we believe that the aim of science is to solve problems, from emerging infectious diseases to climate change, this is good evidence that diversity and inclusion aid science and innovation, fairness and equality,” says Brian Uzzi, the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and senior author on the study.
Using an algorithmic approach, the authors inferred the genders of thousands of scientists, noting the possibility for misclassification and the shortcomings of binary gender classification for any nonbinary scientists.
Each paper was then evaluated for its innovative new ideas and its number of citations. The researchers found that mixed-gender teams of six or more were “9.1% more likely to publish a novel paper” and “14.6% more likely to publish an upper-tail paper than same-gender teams.”
The authors produced other revealing findings. The mixed-gender team’s success had no correlation with the gender of the team’s leader, and mixed-gender teams were cited equally by other male and female scientists (while previous research supports that male scientists and female scientists were more likely to cite scientists belonging to their own respective gender).
The study ends looking toward, but not providing much insight into, an essential question: Why do mixed-gender teams yield these more successful outcomes? In other areas, including business, researchers have echoed findings that diverse viewpoints improve overall collaboration and innovation. But further research could help inform and support DEI initiatives and drive future focus on mixed-gender teams.
“Chances are, if we had more mixed-gender teams working on pressing issues, we’d have faster breakthroughs,” Uzzi says.