Perceptions a funny thing. Earlier this year a study revealed that people tend to perceive doctors as much more capable when they’re dressed in a lab coat.
A recent study suggests that there are similar biases at play when it comes to creativity. The paper, which was published in Psychological Science, found that we’re much more likely to view the work of men as creative than we are 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,” the authors say.
A creative type
The authors suggest this is because many of the traits we associate with creative types, are also those we commonly associate with men. Think of things such as risk taking and self-reliance, decisiveness and daring.
More feminine traits such as cooperation and mutual support were not considered creative at all. This was then carried through into a second experiment where people judged the work of men as more creative than that of women.
Why that’s wrong
The thing is, that’s actually incredibly dangerous thinking. Last year I covered some research that looked at the various characteristics that underpin good innovation.
The eight areas they were looking for in managers were:
1. Challenge their subordinates by giving them difficult or impossible problems to solve, ambitious goals to attain, and the support needed to manage stress.
2. Encourage broadening, which means providing employees with training in subjects or topics well outside their comfort zones.
3. Encourage capturing, that is, urging people to preserve their breakthrough ideas and giving them the tools (whether sophisticated computer programs or pocket-sized recorders) to do so.
4. Manage teams appropriately by assembling diverse groups that use brainstorming and other techniques to maximize their creative output.
5. Model the core competencies of creative expression by walking the walk; for example, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd had his assistants accompany him from meeting to meeting so they could record each new idea on a large chart.
6. Provide adequate and appropriate resources to enable creative functioning.
7. Provide a diverse and changing physical and social work environment that keeps employees on their toes.
8. Provide positive feedback and recognition to people who contribute new and important ideas.
They then analyzed workforces to see who tended to have these skills and characteristics. It emerged that women outperformed men in every single one of the 8 areas.
So not only are our perceptions of what is innovative wrong, but we’re also wrong on just who is innovative.
Sadly, this misconception seems to translate into economic hardship for women in the workplace, with the authors of the initial study revealing that their salaries suffer as a result of being perceived as less creative.
“This result suggests that gender bias in creativity judgments may affect tangible economic outcomes for men and women in the workplace,” the researchers write.
“In suggesting that women are less likely than men to have their creative thinking recognized, our research not only points to a unique reason why women may be passed over for corporate leadership positions, but also suggests why women remain largely absent from elite circles within creative industries,” they conclude.