Jobs and the Future of Work

Do women get less credit when they work in a team?

A team attend a production meeting at their office. Image: REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Emma Luxton
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Collaborating on projects with male colleagues might not be such a good idea for women if they want credit for their contributions.

Heather Sarsons, a Harvard PhD student, has found that men who co-author academic studies are more likely than their female peers to be offered long-term employment by universities.

Sarsons’ research looks specifically at papers published by economists. Her findings, published in Gender Differences in Recognition for Group Work, show that female academics suffer a “co-author penalty”.

She found that male academics get the same amount of credit for co-authoring as they would for writing the paper on their own. But when women write papers as part of a team, they get far less recognition.

It seems that women are penalized for being part of a team. Looking at offers of tenure, 77% of men who contributed to a paper were offered long-term positions, whereas only half of women co-authoring papers were given the same opportunities.

This problem isn’t confined to economics. Sarsons notes that women’s contributions are undervalued across many academic fields, and within business. In many industries women are hired and promoted at lower rates than men.

“This phenomenon, which is especially prominent in the STEM fields, has been dubbed the ‘leaky pipeline’,” she says.

Women report feeling less valued by employers compared to their male colleagues, as well as receiving lower pay, fewer promotions and seeing men praised for ideas originally contributed by female team-mates.

In a high-profile example of a woman’s contribution being undervalued, Anne Case, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton, wrote a paper with her husband, the Nobel prize-winning economist and Princeton professor Angus Deaton.

Despite the fact that Case’s name came first on the study, Deaton was regularly mentioned first in media reports. Although it’s understandable that journalists wanted to focus on a Nobel winner, economist Justin Wolfers writes that female economists are often treated like second-class citizens.

When studying at university, women’s abilities are also underestimated. A study by Anthropologist Dan Grunspan found that male students assumed their male classmates were more knowledgeable, even if their female peers achieved higher grades.

The study found that men consistently gave more credit to other men, and Grunspan notes: “Our work implies that the chilly environment for women may not be going away any time soon.”

Heather Sarsons points out that she consciously took the decision to write her report herself, stating on the first page: “This paper is intentionally solo-authored.”

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Related topics:
Jobs and the Future of WorkEquity, Diversity and InclusionEducation and Skills
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