Women Get Less Credit For Teamwork Than Men, Because Sexism

Anyone that's ever been on a group project will not be surprised by this news. Recent findings from a Harvard Business School study show strong proof that women get much less credit for teamwork than men. 

Cue the eye rolls. But in business, this could be the difference between promotion and being passed over. Teamwork is critical to the foundations of new business models as companies seek to do more with less every day. And if women aren't getting their share of the credit, well, it doesn't look good for us.

It's well known that women prefer to work with others more than men do. This starts from childhood, with the positive emphasis on empathy, sharing and emotions for women and the opposite for men. Think about the toys and games that young girls and boys are supposed to play with. Girls are given dolls, which tell stories and rely on working with other children; boys are given race cars designed to beat the other guy.

As for providing the right amount of credit, it can't be fully explained by differences in productivity or family committments. The latest proof comes from economist PHD candidate Heather Sarsons, who pulled together research on the dynamics of coauthoring economics papers. She found that rather than being rewarded for working in a team, women were often penalized. Sarsons calls it the "collaboration penalty."

The penalty for her study comes in the form of tenure. She found that when a woman solo-authors most of the time, she has the same chances of being granted tenure as a man. But the more she co-authors, the further that chance dips below that of an equally collaborative male. According to The Washington Post, even sterling credentials and rock-solid research still won't overcome our inherent biases. Interestingly, the penalty occurs only when women work with men, but not when women work together. 

There's two schools of thought for why this occurs. One is that women are generally given less credit than men for their work—They're expected to contribute more than their fair share, which conforms to the societal bias we place upon women. This 2005 study showed that when men and women work together on traditionally masculine tasks, outside observers automatically place more value on the man's contribution than the woman's, even if their contributions are in reality, equal.

The second theory is that women are generally less likely to speak up, present, or assert their authority on a given issue. A 2013 series of studies showed that women not only give less credit to themselves, but they also give more credit to their male counterparts!

Sarsons is working with correlations, and she isn't able to account for the whole picture, like letters of recommendation or teaching evaluations. But it's clear: Gender bias exists in academic promotions, and if there's any ambiguity about work contribution, we automatically assume the man did more.

This has potential applications far beyond the realm of academia and paper co-authoring. When we negotiate salaries, run meetings or become #girlbosses, we face this kind of bias every day—not just from other men but from within ourselves. Like any bias, we have to be aware of it as women but also as coworkers. In a business setting, there's no option but to work together, just as in an assigned work project. Taking credit for your contributions—and not being afraid to say so—is an important part of working against years of what society has told us is the 'right' or 'appropriate' way to approach teamwork.