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Are Women Better Innovators Than Men?

rope pulling competition man vs woman

Last year research was published that explored the role managers play in the fostering (or not) of innovation in their organisations.  The study divided participants into groups, and tasked them with working on a project that required input from each team member.

It emerged that when certain individuals in the group were assigned a position of power, collaboration amongst the group evaporated, with the ’powerful’ individual tending to monopolise discussions and decision making.

All of which underlines the important role personality types play in encouraging innovation in our organisations.  A recent study makes the combustible claim that women are actually better at doing this than men.

The researchers analysed eight distinct managerial behaviours that they believe promote and support innovation at work.  With those eight behaviours identified, they then looked at whether competence in each area corresponded with innovation excellence in that manager’s team.  With over 1,300 people from 19 countries included in the research, it’s a comprehensive exploration of what is required to support innovation.

The eight behaviours they were hunting for in managers were:

  1. Willingness to challenge their team, by giving them difficult problems to solve, ambitious goals to attain, but also the support required to help in doing so.
  2. The managers encourage and support their employees in broadening their skills and knowledge, often in areas significantly outside of their comfort zones.
  3. They encourage and facilitate the capture of ideas and insights by providing them with the tools and support to do so.
  4. They assemble diverse teams and utilise brainstorming and other techniques to ensure that their collective intelligence is maximised.
  5. They ensure that their own behaviours mirror that which they are expecting to see from their team (i.e. they walk the walk).
  6. They provide all the resources required to ensure creative functioning.
  7. They ensure the physical and social workplace is such that employees are kept alert and on their toes.
  8. They provide plentiful positive feedback and recognition to those employees that deliver and contribute new ideas.

It transpired that most managers are pretty bad at actually doing many of these things, with many lacking skills in at least 6 of those 8 areas.  The one glimmer of hope was in the delivery of feedback and support for development, in which managers performed most successfully on average.  Interestingly however, those areas were also where managers believed they had little impact on the innovative capabilities of their staff.  Alas, it also emerged that the areas managers believed were hugely effective, were also areas they scored badly in.

Interestingly however, the managers that scored highest were usually women.  The study found that women bosses were out performing their male peers in all eight of the characteristics identified above.  Every, single, one.  Why was this?

The researchers believe that the incredible performance by the female managers was because the characteristics that epitomised innovation were often more evident in women than men.  They went on to suggest that women were also better at seeing the wider picture, and understood that innovation is part of an organisation wide effort to improve.

The research concludes by suggesting that training for managers on innovation is crucial to its success.  They revealed that when managers were trained on innovative behaviours, they almost all scored higher on subsequent analysis, even if the training didn’t touch specifically on the eight behaviours highlighted above.

How well does your boss score on these characteristics?


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