Even Women Think Men Are More Creative, According to Duke University Researchers 

Posted By Terri Williams on January 8, 2016 at 9:48 am
Even Women Think Men Are More Creative, According to Duke University Researchers 

Survey after survey continues to reveal that most employers consider creativity a desirable trait among workers, and they place an even higher premium on creativity when selecting leaders. However, if women are not perceived as being as creative as their male peers, how does this affect hiring and career advancement decisions?

Recent research reveals that both males and females have a tendency to rate men as more creative than women. A series of studies by Duke University researchers examining gender bias and creativity found that women were consistently ranked less creative than their male peers.

  • In the first study, participants linked “outside the box” creativity as more likely to be associated with stereotypically male traits such as self-reliance, decisiveness, and daring, than with stereotypically female traits, such as supportiveness, understanding, and cooperativeness.
  • In the second study, participants were asked to rate the house designs of a fictional architect. When they were told the architect was a male, participants described the design as more creative than when they were told that the same design was produced by a female architect.
  • In the third study, researchers analyzed the performance reviews of senior level executives and found that supervisors described their males executives as being more creative than their female executives.
  • In the fourth study, participants rated strategic plans created by fictional managers. When the participants were told that the ideas came from male managers, they judged them to be more imaginative and creative than when they were told the ideas came from female managers.
  • In the fifth study, when male managers exhibited masculine behavior, it bolstered the view that they were creative – and deserving of career advancement and other rewards. However, when female managers were described as acting in an identical way, it did not produce the same outcome.

Creativity gender bias

According to Markus Baer, PhD, associate professor of organizational behavior at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, there are two primary reasons why gender stereotypes are so pronounced when people judge creativity. “First, people have a romantic view of creativity. The creative person is often considered to be the lone artist or inventor toiling away in isolation and against all odds trying to create the next big idea.” Although, Baer says this romantic view is far from being accurate, it continues to persist.

He also says that the very idea of judging creativity is inherently tricky because it is difficult to assess the creativeness and useful of an idea. “Whether or not something is useful can often only be determined post hoc and so there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to judging creativity.”

In an environment of so much uncertainty, Baer says there is a higher tendency to lean toward other factors, such as stereotypes, to make sense of the world. “People with years of expertise in a domain should be less likely to be susceptible to such biases I would think,” adds Baer.

The perceived level of creativity may determine who gets hired as an artist, writer, fashion designer, architect, producer, or marketer, but it may also determine who gets promoted to art director, advertising and marketing manager, or other senior level positions.

And the implications of these stereotypes reach far beyond traditional “creative careers.” Software developers, engineers, accountants – and practically any other profession that requires problem-solving and critical thinking also involves a level of ingenuity.

According to Dr. Erin Albert, a pharmacist, attorney, and also associate professor of pharmacy and director of continuing education at Butler University in Indianapolis, “We actually have more women enroll in schools of pharmacy now – and have since the 1980s – but if you still look to the leaders in the profession, the C-suite level executives, they’re predominantly male.”

And as long as perceptions like those found in the Duke University study persist, where creativity, innovation, and ingenuity are viewed as predominately male traits, females will continue to have to prove themselves – to men, and to other women.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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