People still tend to associate the ability to think creatively with stereotypical masculine qualities, says a new study.
The findings suggest that the work and achievements of men tend to be evaluated as more creative than similar work and achievements produced by women.
"Our research shows that beliefs about what it takes to 'think creatively' overlap substantially with the unique content of male stereotypes, creating systematic bias in the way that men and women's creativity is evaluated," said lead researcher Devon Proudfoot from Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham.
In an online study, the researchers randomly assigned 80 participants to read a passage describing a type of creativity: the ability to "think outside the box" (also known as divergent thinking) or the ability to "connect the dots" (convergent thinking).
After reading the passage, the participants rated how central 16 different personality traits are to creativity.
As expected, participants associated creativity more with stereotypically masculine traits, including decisiveness, competitiveness, risk-taking, ambition, and daring, than with stereotypically feminine traits like cooperation, understanding, and support to others, and this tendency was particularly pronounced when participants considered creativity as "thinking outside the box."
To investigate the link between gender and creativity in the real world, the researchers also examined performance evaluations for senior-level executives enrolled in an MBA program.
The participants, 100 men and 34 women, were evaluated on their innovative thinking by both their direct reports and supervisors.
In examining the supervisors' evaluations, the researchers found, once again, that male executives tended to be judged as more innovative than their female counterparts were.
In a final study, the researchers asked 125 participants to read a passage about either a male or a female manager whose strategic plan was described as more or less risky (a stereotypical masculine trait).
As predicted, the male manager was perceived as more creative when his behaviour was described as risky than when it was not, but there was no such effect for the female manager.
And the male manager who adopted a risky strategic plan was viewed as more creative than the female manager who espoused the risky plan.
The research suggests that when people think about "creative thinkers" they tend to think of characteristics typically ascribed to men but not women, including qualities like risk-taking, adventurousness, and self-reliance.
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.