Gender integration in traditionally male-dominated environments has many potential advantages. But there are significant obstacles that have to be overcome before these benefits can be realised. Our paper highlight several necessary conditions that have to be in place for the performance benefits to emerge.
The potential of the 'Token' Woman
Recognising the value of 'token' individuals within the workplace can broader perspectives and improve the performance of teams.
When is a token female’s voice incorporated into the actions of a traditionally maledominated
team, and to what ends? Drawing from the tokenism, gender stereotypes, and
minority influence literatures, we advance a model that specifies the conditions that
facilitate token female voice enactment and when enacting the female’s voice enhances
team performance. Using a sample of active-duty military men and women, we
employed live observation techniques to study voice enactment in all-male teams versus
female-token teams (i.e., teams with a token female member) throughout a series of
complex and physically demanding tasks. Our findings revealed that (a) token female
voice enactment was higher when team leaders possessed more favorable beliefs about
women’s capabilities in the military, and (b) token female voice enactment enhanced
team performance in more complex tasks but harmed team performance in less complex
tasks. Additionally, our supplementary analyses revealed that female-token teams were
more reflective before engaging in action relative to all-male teams, as the latter tended to
engage in agentic, “action-first” strategies.
There are three major implications from this research that apply to leaders managing diverse teams. First, organisations need to make sure that leadership teams themselves are diverse enough to be receptive of minority perspectives. Second, leaders need to receive appropriate training in working with and leading diverse teams. For the benefits of diverse perspectives to be realized, leaders must have exceptional awareness of the issues faced by minorities and have the skills to make these individuals feel safe and comfortable to speak up. Lastly, leaders have to actively and explicitly endorse the ideas and suggestions that come from minority members. Diversity is a worthy goal for organisations and their leaders. However, it is far more complicated than simply setting targets. Most importantly, leaders need to set the culture and only then can the benefits of diversity can fully emerge.
Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 63, 832-856, June 2020
About the researcher
Andrew Yu is an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Human Resource Management at the University of Melbourne. He also serves as the co-Director of the PhD Program in Management & Marketing. His research has covered topics such as gender biases, diversity and inclusion, group and team dynamics, leadership, employee well-being, work-family issues, and job performance.