When Bragging Is a Good Thing

When Bragging Is a Good Thing

This post originally appeared on The Jane Dough. 

Women who take on group projects with men are far less likely to give themselves adequate credit for the work they complete than if they were to do the same task with women, a new study finds.

“Women gave more credit to their male teammates and took less credit themselves unless their role in bringing about the performance outcome was irrefutably clear or they were given explicit information about their likely task competence,” the study reported. “However, women did not credit themselves less when their teammate was female.”


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Conducted by Michelle C. Haynes and Madeline E. Heilman, the study involved 34 men and 36 women who were asked to complete independent tasks that would be judged on the group performance of another “study participant” they were matched with. In one scenario, the partners were completing identical tasks; in another, the partners had designated roles and responsibilities. After completing the task and receiving feedback — half of which was “individual” and half of which was presented to the “group” — participants were given a survey that asked about the individual performance, the teammate’s performance, and the success of the group.

Women who were paired with male partners devalued their individual contributions and indicated their teammates as the better performers. When women were matched with female teammates, they tended to give themselves more credit than their partners. The results varied when the partners were asked to work on distinct tasks: when it was clear who did what work, the gap between how women rated their individual contributions and how they rated that of their male “partners” was much closer.

Haynes told The Atlantic that she was inspired to conduct this research when she saw similar behavior in herself. “[I received] some feedback about a symposium that we had submitted for, and that was glowing, fantastic feedback,” she said. “I was sitting, reading the email, and as I was reading it, it was like, ‘Wow, those other papers must have been so wonderful for us to get this glowing praise.’ And then I sort of had this light-bulb moment of, ‘Oh my goodness, I do this too.’”

The study’s findings support the notion of the Impostor Syndrome, in which high-achieving people (mostly women) do not feel they deserve the success that they have earned. They tend to divert the credit onto others (read: men) if the entire group is praised for their work.

Even in groups made up of all women, some ladies still find it hard to take total credit. According to Emily Williamson, a web developer who hosts classes aimed at teaching women how to code, she sees this behavior often. “I would say that in general, when I see women in a group, they tend to associate with ‘we’ more than ‘I,’” Williamson said. “They definitely showcase themselves a lot less.”

Haynes suggests that in order to get over this issue, companies should make the individuals’ work in groups clearer and more accountable: if everyone knows who did what, there is little room for confusion as to who deserves the praise.

Do you ever see this issue happening in your workplace? Let us know in the comments!

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