byFairygodbosson Feb 01, 2016

Women Are Better Mind-Readers (Yes, It's An Actual Skill)

Teamwork at office

Photo credit:Aalto Creative Sustainability via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

In case you needed another reason to believe gender-diverse teams result in better outcomes at work, we recently read an Atlantic article about how women make better mind-readers. Yes, you read that correctly. 

The technical term researchers have for mind-reading is "average social sensitivity". Translation: The "smartest" groups were those that were the "best at reading the non-verbal cues of their teammates." Women, apparently, are better at doing this than men. And what's more, the researchers tried to eliminate gender as a factor by testing individuals for levels of "openness" and "empathy" to try to isolate other personality traits or factors. Apparently, this "average social sensitivity" was stubbornly correlated to gender above any other factor.

You might think this finding only is true if women and men are working together in a face-to-face setting (since we're talking about face and mind-reading, after all). But in a follow-up study, it turns out that women have "average higher social sensitivity" even when working remotely, and interacting with other team members in a completely digital environment. In other words, these social-sensitivity skills and abilities matter even when it comes to 100% remote interactions.

It's true that the specific finding was based on a relatively small study. However, the conclusions of this 2010 study of group performance study are powerful:

"In two studies, with 699 people, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group's performance on a wide variety of tasks. This 'c factor" is not strongly correlated iwth the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in disdtribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportaion of females in the group."

In other words, it's not just enough to make sure there are women in the room (or even a Slack room) but for the benefits to accrue to the team, women need to actually participate in the conversations.

So ladies, if you need another reason to speak up at work, keep in mind that you're not just doing it for yourself (which is perfectly great), but you're also doing it for the good for the team!

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