Men tend to be perceived as more creative than women even when the work they produce is identical, according to new research from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.
A team including Professor Aaron Kay found creativity and innovation are more closely associated with stereotypically male traits, and that this belief can lead people to judge men as more creative than women. The findings suggest women could be at a professional disadvantage in workplaces where creative thinking is most valued, such as the booming tech sector.
"We're in a business world in which creativity is becoming the dominant form of personal capital," said Kay, who studies the subtle ways in which stereotypes work.
A team comprising Kay and Ph.D. students Devon Proudfoot and Christy Zhou Koval parsed publicly available data and conducted several lab studies. Their findings, "A Gender Bias in the Attribution of Creativity: Archival and Experimental Evidence for the Perceived Association between Masculinity and Creative Thinking," are published online in the journal Psychological Science.
In an online study, the researchers randomly assigned 80 participants to read a description of creativity, either as outside-the-box thinking or as a connect-the-dots approach. Then they were asked to rate how central each of 16 character traits are to creativity.
The participants rated stereotypically male qualities (including decisiveness, courage and competitiveness) as more important to creativity than traits more commonly associated with women (such as sensitivity, sympathy and nurturing).
In a further study, 169 participants were asked to rate the creativity of both male and female fashion designers and architects. While there was no gender difference in creativity ratings for the fashion designers — a job stereotypically associated with women — the male architects were judged as more creative than the women, even though their work was identical.
"We find people think it's more creative if a man made it than a woman," Kay said.
A final study had 125 participants read about a manager with a business plan that was either more or less risky, a stereotypically male quality. When the manager was a man and the plan was described as risky he was rated as more creative than a man with a less risky plan. Men with risky plans were also rated as more creative than women with the same plans. There was no significant difference between women regardless of how risky their plans were.
The researchers also examined professional evaluations of 134 senior executives, 100 of them men, enrolled in an MBA program. Though their subordinates rated the men and women as equally innovative on average, their supervisors judged the men as more innovative than the women. That has the potential to limit opportunities for women in the workplace, the researchers concluded.
"As our economy becomes more and more based on innovation, this bias is going to matter more and more," Kay said. "If we think creative behavior is more desirable, then it's even more important to be aware of stereotypes about creativity."