Do girls get less credit in group projects?


Pretty much everyone who's been through school knows that feeling of dread you get when your teacher announces a new group projects. Sure, they can be fun when you get paired up with your friends, but it always seems inevitable that one person will get stuck doing most of the work. Worse is when you put in the time and the effort to write an awesome presentation and then one of your partners is given most of the credit.

Sound familiar? It should: Research has shown that guys in group assignments tend to be given more credit than girls, no matter who did most of the work.

This may not come as a surprise to anyone who's focused in while your guy friends goofed off, but it really surprised Harvard PhD candidate Heather Sarsons, who came to the realization that women were less likely to get promoted when co-authoring academic papers with men. In order to prove her realization, Sarsons researched and wrote her own paper where she compiled over four decades of records and nearly 500 promotion decisions at the top economics universities in the nation.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the results that Sarsons writes about in her paper confirm her previous suspicions, but also add some valuable insight as to how women and girls can really achieve the right amount of academic acknowledgement. Sarsons found that women who author their papers alone are just as likely to receive a promotion as a man, but when they co-author a paper, their likelihood decreases significantly. With these findings, however, Sarsons wasn’t sure if she should contribute her findings to employers and professors not giving female candidates enough credit—or if it was the women themselves who were unintentionally downplaying their role in the research and writing.

A previous study performed by NYU's Madeline Heilman found that when men and women work together on a task that is associated with leadership skills and decision making (things usually associated with men), women are more likely to give the credit to the men in their group, even if they didn't necessarily deserve it.

These findings aren't totally shocking, but it does encourage us to think more about the real world consequences of gender inequality and the root causes of it. With her paper, Sarson isn't looking to discourage women and girls from working in groups, but to "bring attention to the fact that people might unconsciously be assigning credit for things differentially." We'll definitely be more aware in the future.

Have you ever worked hard on a group project—just to see the boys reaping the benefits? What do you think girls can do to make sure they're getting their dues?


by Caitlin Callihan | 2/24/2016