If you’ve ever sold yourself short professionally, there might be more at work than you think. A new study sheds light on some of the reasons why women tend to give their colleagues more credit than they give themselves, especially when working on stereotypically masculine tasks with male co-workers.
The ‘Who-Me?’ face is probably not your best workplace look.
Researcher Michelle Haynes, a psychology professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell, was first interested in this study (cleverly dubbed “It Had To Be You (Not Me!)“) when she realized that she was prone to undervaluing her own work. After getting what she called “glowing group feedback about a symposium,” her immediate thought was to give her co-contributors the credit.
“And then it hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said. “Wait a minute, I do this, too.”
Over the course of four studies, Haynes and New York University professor Madeline Heilman found that women and men give credit for successful collaborative work in very different ways.
Three of the studies involved women doing “masculine” tasks (like working as a manager at an investment company) and found that women tended to give more credit to male teammates unless their individual contributions or performance expectations were crystal clear. A fourth study found something else interesting: it indicated that women don’t do the my-teammates-deserve-all-the-credit thing when they’re working with other women.
This attitude is also a no-no.
Group work is pretty inescapable now, as all of us who’ve had to do group projects in school and work know all too well. Haynes says these studies demonstrate that group work isn’t always the best way to evaluate people.
“There may be some unintended negative evaluative consequences for women who are working in these teams,” Haynes explained. This has the potential to really negatively impact women’s careers. The habit could affect our chances at acing performance reviews, our confidence in asking for promotions and raises, and our bosses’ faith in our abilities to take on more high-profile responsibility. In short: it’s bad news all around.
But have no fear! The researchers say that if we recognize this tendency to undervalue our contributions, it’s totally possible to learn to keep it in check.
And of course it’s important to note that this undervaluing tendency isn’t present in all women. But the fact that researchers noticed this pattern in the first place shows that there are problems at play.
The researchers’solution? Since they noticed that “ambiguity” or “uncertainty” are key factors in this bad habit, “organizations must take steps to mitigate these consequences, by ensuring that tasks are divided [so] that individual contribution is apparent and by ensuring that when women do perform well, that they are provided with this type of feedback.”
Combine this with an all-around ‘fight the patriarchy’ attitude and we might be able to stop the trend and start accepting credit where credit is due, no matter how many men helped out along the way.
By Grace Duggan for BUST magazine
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net