Friday, 24 June 2011

Number of women, not IQ, determines how smart a group is.

I know I've discussed this before but the evidence just gets more and more fascinating.
What makes a group (such as a board) really smart?
It’s not their collective intelligence but a high level of emotional intelligence. 
Studies show that:
  • Groups that are really effective listen to each other.
  • They share constructive criticism.
  • They have open minds.
  • They’re not autocratic.
  • They have an equal distribution of conversational turn-taking.
When I reported to the Financial Services Research Forum last year that having three women on a company board tripled profitability, I didn’t realise what a huge topic this would become. Since my paper on the topic was published in Significance, more research has come to light that’s even more fascinating.
Imagine that you have a really smart bunch of people in the room. 
How would you measure their collective intelligence? The straightforward answer might to be measure the IQ of each individual, then work out the average to obtain the group IQ.
Not just small and smug-looking....
It turns out that IQ scores tell us nothing about the intelligence of the group.
One other factor does. 
The number of women in the group. 
No kidding.
Professor Anita Woolley of Carnegie Mellon gave subjects aged 18 to 60 IQ tests and assigned them randomly to teams. Each team completed several tasks, like brainstorming, decision making, visual puzzles—and had to solve one complex problem. The intelligence scores of the groups were calculated, based on their performance.
You might expect teams whose members had higher IQs to have scored highest. 
They didn’t.
The teams with more women did.
An amazing finding. When Anita Woolley published this in Science* and was interviewed for the Harvard Business Review she said:
You realize you’re saying that groups of women are smarter than groups of men.
Woolley: Yes… part of that finding can be explained by differences in social sensitivity, which we found is also important to group performance. Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do. So what is really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.
As I said in my previous posts, it's diversity not expertise that makes the group effective. I'll shut up now. Perhaps ;)
*Science 29 October 2010: Vol. 330 no. 6004 pp. 686-688 

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