The story at a glance
- Historically, the work of female researchers has been undervalued and underrepresented in the scientific and medical communities.
- New research details the pitfalls of this trend, as more gender-balanced research teams produce more impactful and innovative ideas.
- The findings highlight the importance of gender representation when conducting scientific research.
Researchers in the scientific and medical community strive to produce innovative and impactful breakthroughs through their work. One way to improve these efforts is to work in teams with a balanced number of men and women, according to a new study.
Historically, women’s contributions to research have been underrepresented, prompting the creation of organizations such as the Association for Women in Science. Previous studies have also detailed gender disparities in professional conference appearances and authorship in scientific papers.
To underscore the importance of the diverse contributions of gender in the medical sciences, a team of researchers from Michigan State University, Northwestern University, New York University and the University of Notre Dame evaluated 6.6 million articles published by mixed research teams since the year 2000.
Although there has been rapid growth in mixed teams throughout this period, these teams continue to be underrepresented, the authors wrote, because teams still tend to have more men and fewer women.
But, “despite their under-representation, posts from mixed teams are significantly more original and impactful than posts from same-sex teams of equivalent size,” they added. The result was consistent regardless of the medical subfield or whether the team was led by a man or a woman.
Specifically, teams of six or more people and an equal or close number of men and women were nearly 10% more likely to publish groundbreaking work and nearly 15% more likely to be among the top-cited articles. compared to unbalanced teams.
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The researchers also found that the greater the gender balance in a research team, the more likely that team is to produce higher quality research, based on the factors assessed. However, they were unable to account for non-binary authors in the current study.
“This work quantifies the impact of diversity on academic achievement,” study co-author Teresa K. Woodruff, president of Michigan State University, said in a press release.
“The more diverse the environment, the better the outcomes for those who fund the research and those in whose interests the work is done.”
Over the past 10 years, women’s participation in the medical sciences has exceeded men’s in graduate and postdoctoral research training, the authors wrote. The results not only help recognize women’s contributions to science and the benefits of women and men collaborating, but also highlight how these practices improve science as a whole.
“Chances are that if we had more mixed teams working on pressing issues, we would have faster breakthroughs,” added co-author Brian Uzzi of Northwestern University.
The researchers defined novelty as the extent to which papers combined existing ideas in innovative ways, and impact was defined by the total number of paper citations. The analyzes also suggested that the findings might be generalizable to fields outside of medicine.
“We all believe that diversity increases impact, and this new paper proves that claim, here through the lens of gender and scientific productivity,” Woodruff said.
The research is the first of its kind to quantify the benefits of mixed teams, while the authors hypothesize that nuanced approaches to problem solving grounded in personal experience and an equity lens could explain these benefits.