A recent series of studies from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell found that women who participate in group projects are less likely to take credit for their accomplishments — but only if the other team members are male.
“Results indicated that women and men allocated credit for the joint success very differently,” the studies’ authors wrote. “Women gave more credit to their male teammates and took less credit themselves unless their role in bringing about the performance outcome was irrefutably clear or they were given explicit information about their likely task competence. However, women did not credit themselves less when their teammate was female.”
Grace Rasmus at The Jane Dough points out, this supports “the notion of the Impostor Syndrome, in which high-achieving people (mostly women) do not feel they deserve the success that they have earned. They tend to divert the credit onto others (read: men) if the entire group is praised for their work.”
The study’s coauthor Michelle C. Haynes told The Atlantic that she was inspired to carry out the research when she noticed the behavior in herself.
Together with Madeline E. Heilman, Haynes gathered a group of 34 men and 36 women and paired them off with fictional teammates. Haynes and Heilman then charged the participants with performing independent tasks, which would then be judged on the performance of their partner. Eighty-nine percent of the female subjects attributed an “excellent” rating for group work to the (fictional) male partner.
Other variations of the study included asking the subjects to perform tasks that were different from that of their partner, making everyone’s contributions clearer, and pairing the participants with imaginary partners of varying sexes. When individual contributions were clear, women rated themselves more closely to their male partners; when they were paired with females, they tended to rate themselves higher. In a fourth version of the study, the researchers asked them to take a pretest beforehand, and then offered either positive feedback or no feedback. When the female participants received positive feedback, they were more likely to take credit for their work.
The bottom line? Impostor syndrome and stereotype threat are real, but no one seems to know exactly how to prevent or decrease them. Although I suppose we could start by giving ourselves pep talks before we perform tasks.
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