Gender Studies has become a popular field in academia, but we’d like to use the term in a different way—i.e., studying the gender composition of groups. Why? Whether in applied creative thinking, writing, or professional learning communities, we’ve found gender diversity works. (Tweet this quote.)
In fact, in our Introduction to Applied Creative Thinking (2012), we name collaboration as one of our nifty-nine strategies for applying creativity. While we note that studies confirm increased ideation as well as potential conflict (46-49), in the book we don’t delve into the question of gender composition in creative groups.
Our recently published collabo-novel Shadows Over Banshee Ridge lists its writer as Quinn MacHollister. Quinn is actually a quintet composed of four males and a female. While men can still create effective female characters and vice versa (no, characters can’t create writers, but you know what we mean), we find that empowering characters from both gender angles makes the characters more believable. The same diversity works for plotting. While men have traditionally followed the exposition-complication-climax-denouement pattern, theorists have demonstrated that women tend to plot in terms of rapport—characters seeking, finding, and breaking relationships. Why not combine both Mars and Venus?
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal sheds light on male-female collaboration, at least with business teams. (Tweet this quote.) “Do Men and Women Like Working Together?” (December 16, 2014) asks Rachel Silverman, and according to a study of a large U.S. professional services firm by MIT and George Washington University, the answer is mixed. According to the results, “When men and women work together on teams, the results are good for business—but they don’t enjoy it much” (D-2).
More specifically, according to the study “researchers posit that shifting an all-female or an all-male team to a co-ed one would increase revenues 41%” (D-2). However, the study also confirmed productivity’s gain is satisfaction’s loss on diverse teams: “Those on more diverse teams reported lower levels of happiness, trust and cooperation” (D-2).
As it reaches a balance between the genders in its population, academia needs as business has done to study the strategy of collaboration. Are diverse educational groups likewise effective? Does this gender integration produce the same kind of dissatisfaction? Even if the latter is true, do the gains made outweigh the problems? What can be done to continue the productivity of diverse collaborations and still maintain a positive social atmosphere?
Sometimes we wonder if the gender gap is truly bridgeable. Over two decades ago we remember reading You Just Don’t Understand (1990) in which Deboran Tannen describes the differing ways the opposite sexes communicate. Men talk to men primarily for report—i.e, to exchange information; women, on the other hand, speak to other women mainly for rapport—i.e., to bond emotionally. How much effect does this variance in purpose hinder effective collaboration between the sexes?
Our anecdotal experience practicing in the halls of ivy seems to be that while communication problems exist, progress is made and our satisfaction doesn’t go down. Whether serving on committees, professional learning communities, task forces, or even writing clubs, we’ve found that gender diversity offers an excellent example of another strategy of applied creative thinking we write about in our book, perception shift—i.e., looking at the same problem from different perspectives.
Are we saying that any man can work with any woman? Obviously not, but in more cases than not, we’ve discovered gender diversity is both productive and satisfying, especially when you regard problem-solving from the various strategies of applied creative thinking more than gender.
Charlie Sweet is currently Co-Director of the Teaching & Learning Center (2007+) at Eastern Kentucky University. Before going over to the dark side of administration, for 37 years he taught American Lit and Creative Writing in EKU’s Department of English & Theatre, where he also served as chair (2003-2006). Collabo-writing with Hal Blythe, he has published well over 1000 items, including 15 books; of his 11 books with New Forums. Meet Charlie.