(By Fiona Macrae)
“The conventional wisdom is that women co-operate more easily but when you look at how armies or sports teams function, there is evidence that men are better at co-operating in some ways.“
They may lack the competitive streak of their male colleagues but women are loath to work together.
A study found two women are less likely to co-operate than two men when one is more powerful than the other.
Similarly, two females of different rank are less likely to work together than a man and a woman.
The finding contradicts the widely held belief that women’s nurturing nature makes it natural for them to help each other out, while men are too competitive to have time for each other.
Researchers said that men may be wired to put their differences aside in order to form alliances. Women, however, are most comfortable with people who are on the same level as them.
Richard Wrangham, of the University of Quebec at Montreal, said: ‘The question we wanted to examine was: Do men or women co-operate better with members of their own sex?
‘The conventional wisdom is that women co-operate more easily but when you look at how armies or sports teams function, there is evidence that men are better at co-operating in some ways.’
To look at whether there sexes differ in how they co-operate, the scientists looked at research collaborations in 50 university psychology departments.
This showed that all female pairings of junior and senior researchers were much less common than collaborations between two men at different stages in their career.
However, women of the same rank didn’t seem to have difficulty in working together and mixed-sex collaborations were also common.
In other words, the problem arises in situations in which one female is more powerful than the other.
Writing in the journal Current Biology, the researchers said the lack of trust may come from both directions.
They said: ‘The study does not demonstrate whether the reduced level of co-operation among women if different status is due to higher-ranked or lower-ranked women.
‘However, our findings are consistent with results from early childhood onwards suggesting that females of lower status can be uncomfortable co-operating with their superiors.
‘Female superiors may also be less willing than male superiors to invest in lower-ranked same-sex individuals.’
Others say that while men make their feelings clear, women are more likely to let jealousies and resentments fester.
Harvard University researcher Joyce Benenson, one of the study’s authors, said that women’s instinctive distrust of females in power may make it more difficult for them to scale the career ladder.
She said: ‘Females are less likely than males to co-operate across ranks with same-sex individuals.
‘This means that a highly talented newcomer female in any organisation does not receive the support that her male counterpart does from higher-ranked individuals who can help them climb the hierarchy.’
Even having a male boss may not be a huge help.
Professor Benenson said: ‘Because men often discriminate against women, it is unclear whether higher-ranked males could be more helpful.’
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