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Women sell themselves short on team projects: study

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When it comes to teamwork, women will devalue their contributions when working with men but not with other women, according to a new research.

The study suggests yet another reason why women still tend to be under-represented at the highest echelons of many organisations.

Michelle Haynes of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and colleagues set out to design an experiment to examine how women evaluate their own contributions to collaborative work outcomes, particularly when working with men on tasks that are considered to be 'masculine'.

"If you get an A on a paper, it is pretty clear who deserves the credit for that A. But if the A is the product of a group effort, how does the credit get distributed?" she said.

In a series of four experiments, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Haynes' team asked participants to work remotely with another person on tasks traditionally associated with a male role: acting as a managing supervisor at an investment company; in actuality, there was no other teammate.

Under various conditions, they received feedback about their team's performance.

When given positive group feedback, the female participants gave more credit to their male teammates and took less credit themselves.

They would only credit themselves with success in the task when working with a male if their individual role in the task was clear.

The study also found that women did not undervalue their contributions when their teammates were female.

"This finding is critical because it debunks the notion that what we found is simply a function of women being modest in groups," Haynes said.

"Rather, it underscores how the expectations women hold of themselves, and those they work with, influence how they process group feedback.

"Furthermore, it reveals that gender continues to play a role in how individuals derive these performance expectations," she said.

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