Gender Equality

Sometimes you just need a woman

Group intelligence

Group intelligence reflects cooperation between people. A group’s ability to solve challenges is not significantly influenced by the intelligence of the individual group members nor by having one group member with a very high IQ.

A group’s ability to solve problems is revealed instead through three characteristics.

The first two characteristics are that groups should have good social skills and good patterns of talking together. Groups in which just a few members talk a lot and others talk little or not at all, perform worse than groups with more evenly distributed participation.

The third characteristic that reveals group intelligence is gender balance in the group. When that is achieved, groups are better at solving various types of problems than groups that are dominated by just one gender.

Leadership teams

Gender balance also gives positive results for larger institutions. In the private sector, companies with at least 30% women in their management teams function better in ways that give increased profitability.

When the research is developed further, we see that women and men to some extent use different leadership behaviors. The result of these different behaviors is that employees do better at their jobs, which in turn gives increased profitability.

Diversity in leadership teams gives successful organizations, compared with those that do not have this diversity.

Segregated workplaces

It’s important to highlight the positive effect of gender balance on the performance of groups and organizations because workplaces in Norway are unusually segregated. Only a little over 20% of people working in Norway work in industries with gender balance, i.e. with at least 40% men and 40% women.

We might therefore say that Norway shows a gender equality paradox. We have very high levels of participation of women in the workforce. But at the same time, the work force is quite segregated.

Given what we know about the advantages of gender balanced groups and leadership teams, it’s important to continue working to integrate Norwegian workplaces. Each of us must take responsibility for doing this in our own industry.

What is happening at universities?

If gender balanced groups have higher group intelligence, universities should be particularly interested in having research groups that are roughly equally made up of men and women.

Universities should be leaders in societal change and it is our responsibility to find new approaches for solving society’s problems. For this reason, too, we are focused on increasing gender equality and gender balance.

Gender balance at Norwegian universities is good until we reach the highest levels. Just over 20% of our top positions — professors and docents — are women.

At the University of Tromsø, we have been working deliberately for several years to get more women in these top positions. In 2001, we were the worst in Norway, with only 9% of our top positions being filled by women. Today we are the best in Norway, with about 28%.

Investment from the top

The most important measure in gender equality work is the engagement of an organization’s top leadership. With that, other measures are of limited value. For that reason, the Board at the University of Tromsø has declared that we should have 30% of our top academic positions filled by women by the end of 2013.

When the organization’s leadership supports this work, we can implement several other important measures: regular measurement and reporting of where we’re at, mentor programs, tolerance for longer periods away from work, and flexibility at the workplace, just to mention a few of the most important ones.

At the University of Tromsø we’re now in the midst of a major Promotion Project. This project stimulates and advises women at the next highest level to take the final step to the top. When this project is finished in 2013, we’ll have well over 30% women in our professor and docent positions.

Gender equality yields quality

Universities invest in getting more women professors partially because is the right thing to do. Women should have equal opportunities for their careers as men; girls need role models.

But we also do this because it’s the smart thing to do; it yields higher quality results for the work we are doing. Universities become better organizations and deliver better education and research when we have gender balance at the top and in groups throughout the organization. Considerable research suggests that this is true.

Thoughts about hiring

Hiring processes should be affected by the knowledge we have about the positive relationship between gender balance and quality.

When an organization hires someone, it isn’t just one individual who is affected. A hiring brings a new person into a group. That affects the group’s composition. And we know that the composition of a group affects its intelligence and performance.

We have to be permitted to think like this when we advertise positions. We have to be allowed to look at a group and to ask what they need.

And sometimes, you just need a woman.

This blog entry was published as an op-ed piece in Aftenposten on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2012, with the title Noen ganger trengs det en kvinne.

Photo courtesy of United Nations Photo

My interest in moving universities towards balance encompasses gender equality, the communication of scientific results, promoting research-based education and leadership development more generally. Read more




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