Have you noticed stereotypes suggesting men are more creative than women, or vice versa? Turns out neither argument holds water. Psychological research shows that men and women are identical when it comes to generating creative ideas.

So why is there sometimes a difference in creative output? The reasons might surprise you.

Research by Lynne Millward and Helen Freeman suggests that while men and women are equally innovative, their gender roles in an organization can affect two very important aspects of the ideas and thinking they bring to the table. One aspect is how they are perceived by others and the second is how they approach a problem when innovating and sharing ideas.

Looking a bit further, it seems men are perceived as more innovative and risk-taking while women are perceived as more adaptive and risk-adverse. According to Millward and Freeman, "Gender roles may interact with the role of the manager to inhibit (in the case of women) or facilitate (in the case of men) the likelihood of innovative behavior."

As a result, people within an organization perceive innovative and creative solutions and ideas to most likely come from a male manager, and they perceive adaptive solutions to most likely come from a female manager. The researchers also found that innovative solutions were perceived to most likely be implemented if suggested by a male manager.

In other words, it’s not that men are actually more creative than women, they’re only perceived to be, so their ideas are more valued and sometimes more likely to be implemented.

Why does this matter for creatives, marketers, entrepreneurs, and professionals in today’s world? First, innovation workshops and brainstorms should use a systematic creativity method that forces participants to push past their gender tendencies. It has to rein men in a bit and push women further out on the creativity scale. Second, facilitators should pair men and women together when trying to generate creative and thought provoking ideas. When the pair shares jointly created ideas, it helps neutralize the gender perception of others as group members aren’t sure who generated the idea, becoming less likely to view the ideas as more or less creative based on gender.

But there’s an even more important benefit to having men and women work together. The more adaptive behavior in women and more risk-taking behavior in men provide a certain balance or harmony for creative thinking. The somewhat different approaches to thinking complement each other and produce better results, and more.  

Men and women are equally talented when it comes to creativity. But having them work together to innovate and create together is the most creative approach of all!

Source: Role Expectations as Constraints to Innovation: The Case of Female Manager. Lynne J. Millward, Helen Freeman. Creativity Research Journal. Vol. 14, Iss. 1, 2002

Drew Boyd

Drew Boyd is a 30-year industry veteran. He spent 17 years at Johnson & Johnson in marketing, mergers and acquisitions, and international development. Today, he trains, consults and speaks widely in the fields of innovation, persuasion and social media. He is the executive director of the Master of Science in Marketing Program and assistant professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati. Drew’s work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Industry Week, Psychology Today and Strategy+Business. Visit his blog, Inside the Box Innovation.

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