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Further Gender Integration in Science and Engineering Could Spark Innovation

Recent research from the Penn State Smeal College of Business finds that women’s expertise may be underutilized in science and engineering teams, leading to teams performing at less than optimal levels of productivity.
February 13, 2014

Aparna Joshi
Aparna Joshi

Recent research from the Penn State Smeal College of Business finds that women’s expertise may be underutilized in science and engineering teams, leading to teams performing at less than optimal levels of productivity.

A paper by Associate Professor of Management and Organization Aparna Joshi concludes that greater gender equity and integration in traditionally male-dominated fields will not only increase parity of women in those fields but also foster greater productivity and innovation within teams.

“[T]he rationale for fostering greater gender equity and integration goes beyond ensuring equal employment opportunity for men and women to accelerating scientific productivity and innovation within teams,” Joshi writes in her paper “By Whom and When is Women's Expertise Recognized? The Interactive Effects of Gender and Education in Science and Engineering Teams.” “[I]n order to fully utilize diverse expertise and maximize productivity and innovation in teams, it is vital to enhance gender diversity within teams and across the disciplines in which these teams are embedded.”

“[I]n order to fully utilize diverse expertise and maximize productivity and innovation in teams, it is vital to enhance gender diversity within teams and across the disciplines in which these teams are embedded.”

According to information from the National Science Foundation, Joshi writes, “Since 2000, women have steadily earned more science and engineering bachelor’s degrees than men, and almost half the master’s degrees earned across the field are being awarded to women.”

But female scientists and engineers are still significantly outnumbered in corporate management roles and faculty positions at research universities, and they are earning less money. Those advances in education have not yet translated to advancement in the workplace.

Joshi posits that the disconnect lies in team members’ inability to accurately perceive expertise. After examining data collected from science and engineering teams, Joshi found a tendency among male and female team members to perceive the expertise of their fellow female members at a lower level than their male counterparts, despite the level of education those women had achieved.

Men who identified more with their own gender valued highly educated women’s expertise less than they valued their male team members’ expertise. More importantly, these men valued less educated women more than they valued their highly educated female counterparts.

Team members’ perceptions of their colleagues’ expertise is critical to the functioning of the team and all its members, because those perceived as experts are offered more opportunities to perform and to lead.

“If attributes, such as educational level, contribute relatively little to the evaluations of women’s expertise, then it is unlikely that any gains women make in their human capital can mitigate gender differences in employment outcomes,” writes Joshi.

“If attributes, such as educational level, contribute relatively little to the evaluations of women’s expertise, then it is unlikely that any gains women make in their human capital can mitigate gender differences in employment outcomes.”

Joshi also found that the expertise of highly educated women is more highly utilized in teams with more women, and that teams with more highly-educated women are more productive in disciplines that have greater female representation.

“[I]n a gender-integrated discipline such as civil engineering, highly educated and technically skilled female civil engineers are visible to team members and represent women’s success and abilities in this domain,” writes Joshi. “In this context, team members are unlikely to perceive female team members as less qualified than men and more likely to accept their inputs in achieving the team’s tasks and goals.”

Joshi’s research focuses on multilevel issues in workplace diversity, gender issues in science and engineering, collaboration in global and distributed teams, generational issues in the workplace, and international and cross-cultural management. Her paper, “By Whom and When is Women’s Expertise Recognized? The Interactive Effects of Gender and Education in Science and Engineering Teams,” is forthcoming in Administrative Science Quarterly.

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