Groups With a “Token” Woman Tend to Perform Complex Tasks More Effectively Than All-Male Groups

A new study led by Crystal I. C. Farh, an associate professor of management in the School of Business at the University of Washington, finds that when a token woman becomes part of a male-dominated group, complex tasks are performed more effectively.

The researchers set their study in U.S. Marine Corps combat units. They randomly divided active duty male and female Marines into small tactical teams. Some were composed entirely of males. Others included a lone female. In the complex tasks, the teams that tried out a woman’s suggestions were able to devise an effective strategy and complete the objective more quickly than those groups that did not have a woman or groups that ignored the woman’s input. “In the complex tasks,” Dr. Farh noted, “teams that didn’t have a ‘token’ voice among their numbers tended to just keep trying the same solution over and over, ending in frustration and often anger.”

“Getting diversity into teams doesn’t make things happen magically,” explained Dr. Farh. “A lot of things have to fall into place to actually capitalize on diversity. And there are many threats, such as a negative stereotype or evaluation, which can cause individuals who are different from their teammates to either not speak up or not be heard if they do.”

Dr. Farh is a graduate of Harvard University. She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland College Park.

The full study, “Token Female Voice Enactment in Traditionally Male-Dominated Teams: Facilitating Conditions and Consequences for Performance,” was published on the website of the Acadamy of Management Journal. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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