Although previously conducted studies have shown that organizations that support inclusion statistically outperform those that do not, equality in the workplace is still a remote aspiration for many.
The problem appears to extend beyond the hiring process. According to a new paper published in the journal Creativity and Innovation Management, male workers generally receive greater executive support for their ideations than female workers do—even among diverse teams.
“Although innovation is vital for the success of organizations, many may not be capitalizing on the creativity of all workers. Gender bias in attributions of creativity may lead to an imbalance in the extent to which organizations support the creativity of men and women,” the authors wrote in the report. “Because organizational support for creativity is positively associated with creative outcomes, this may undermine the creativity of women in the workplace. To determine if gender influences creative workplace behavior through support for creativity, conditional process models were used to analyze the survey responses and external employment data of workers (N = 14,590) across industries in the US.”
In order to support their hypothesis, the authors surveyed a demographically representative sample pool comprised of 15,000 working American adults from various industries.
The survey inquired after the extent to which each respondent is being encouraged to develop and suggest original ideas and solutions to problems at work, actual creativity and innovation at work, how often people give ideas for new projects, how often they contribute original ways to achieve goals, and about the nature of their jobs.
“In line with our hypotheses, results showed that men describe having greater creativity support than women. In turn, this differential in support for creativity predicted gender differences in creative and innovative behavior at work. Those who receive greater support innovate more. Gender differences in support for creativity are most pronounced in industries with the fewest women.”
Strangely, men tend to receive more support for their creative ideas in industries dominated by women, yet women occupying these same industries more often than not receive less support for theirs.
Further and preceding research did not determine any sort of disparity in aptitude between male and female employees despite the former’s being perceived more favorably by participating colleagues of either gender.
When we specifically examine professional creativity—which denotes one’s ability to come up with original ideas, identify connections among remotely associated concepts and solve complex problems, researchers have similarly identified no biological advantage between male and female populations, irrespective of age.
“Across studies, on average, men and women tend to perform similarly. Another set of studies examined whether the creativity of men and women differs when they are asked to create something in the laboratory, such as a collage or poetry. Again, on average, men and women performed similarly.”
A toxic social environment seems to be a reliable disincentive of a worker realizing their creative potential. If an employee perceives an inherent bias when communicating ideas they’re more likely to self-censor themselves, which in turn stifles their potential.
In one of the experiments indexed in the new paper, researchers told participants one of the following things: Creativity involves the ability to think outside the box, seeing the world differently, or that not conforming to traditions or that creativity involves the ability to connect the dots, see connections among ideas, and create something that brings ideas together in a unique way.
The respondents were subsequently asked to rate different personality associations with creativity. Masculine traits (e.g., being daring, self-reliant) were consistently rated as most central for creativity.
During the follow-up study, participants were asked to read a description of a creator. Everyone received the same descriptions, except for one group which was told that their creator was either male or female. Both groups were then asked to evaluate the same products (e.g., images of houses) ascribed to the creator. People tended to judge products they believed were made by a man as more creative than those they believed were made by a woman.
“Extensive research shows that people’s perception of how much their organization encourages, recognizes, and rewards creativity predicts what they do at work. Gender-based bias in support for creativity could thus result in real-world differences in what people achieve in their jobs,” the authors conclude. “Women make up 47% of the U.S. workforce. Yet they are not likely to receive equal support for creativity, support that is crucial to enable creativity and innovation at work. This bias could hurt organizations by preventing them from fully utilizing the human potential of all their employees. This research highlights a need for greater equality in support for creativity and for leveling the field for creativity at work.”