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world yin yangStudy after study has shown the correlation between gender diversity in leadership and better business outcomes. Does gender diversity lead to better results because women bring something magic? I don’t think so. My theory has always been that, with a mix of men and women, a group or team is more likely to have a balance of both masculine and feminine perspectives and strengths. It is the balance of yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) strengths – in both men and women — that leads to better outcomes.

A study two years ago suggested that having women on a team stimulates better results. A more recent study says, “Not so fast” – and may point to a deeper factor that is more aligned with my theory.

A 2014 study suggests that the presence of women drives better team results. A team of scientists studied group intelligence. They found that some groups are “smarter” than others. The “collective intelligence” of a group was not a result of the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members. Rather, the study concluded, the single most important element of smart groups was their “average social sensitivity” — their ability to read the non-verbal cues of their teammates. Women in general are better at reading non-verbal cues and score higher on this metric of emotional intelligence. Therefore, teams with more women tended to have higher collective intelligence and achieve better outcomes.

The more recent study (at Carnegie Melon) challenges the conclusion that women are the key to smart teams. This study found that companies with more female executives do not reap the benefits of gender diversity when their “culture is still too dominated by internal competition rather than collaboration.” Says one of the lead researchers, “Gender diversity benefits do not materiali[z]e if the atmosphere is too cut-throat.”

So having gender balance may not deliver better results — if a team or culture continues to employ and value masculine skills and approaches to the exclusion of their feminine counterparts. The magic may be in a culture that reflects and values feminine as well as masculine styles and strength. In fact, the gender composition of a group may not matter if its members (men and women) are supported in demonstrating and leveraging both styles. It’s just more likely that the magic will happen when both men and women are at the table!

Why do you think gender diversity is correlated with better outcomes?