Women are the natural collaborators

A recent Harvard Business School research paper describes a study of over 100,000 employees in an unnamed corporation, that analyzed over 100 million e-mails and 60 million electronic calendar entries over a three-month period.

The results showed the lack of communication across the organizational hierarchy and geography. In short, most people tended to communicate with others in their own group or with peers. However, women were statistically far more likely to transcend pre-existing organisational barriers.

This may not appear that startling a finding but i think it’s important. Intuitively women tend to be the community builders and men display greater competitive drive. However in this study we see cold hard data to satisfy even the most analytically inclined (hopefully). With so much emphasis on collaboration and breaking down pre-existing silos, it needs stating that there is a clear gender divide at play here.

This has also been brought home to me recently as we’ve been writing a manifesto that we intend to unleash shortly called ‘the campaign for extreme collaboration’. However several female colleague object to the use of the word ‘extreme’ as it seems unnecessarily agressive and provocative (which is part of the reason why I like it if I’m honest). However I wonder if it also makes the more feminine concept of collaboration more appealing to men. Interestingly we had a considerable positive response to the manifesto by a predominantly male community when I shared a draft of the manifesto at the recent ibm innovation jam.

We are in the midst of the first networked global recession and I believe we need to rethink or organisational and political structures to reflect this increasingly interconnected world to be more collaborative and (slightly) less competitive.  Dissappointingly women in top jobs are in decline and yet they are needed more than ever.


  1. we need to cut out the superficial and just start connecting the brains. Would love to work on a project where I didn’t know names or gender of collaborators…all virtual. See how that effected the outcomes.
    It needs to start at school…girls need to be given many more opportunities to present and take centre stage verbally (not just because they can dance and look cute in a ballet frock). They need confidence in public speaking so that they are comfortable with a higher, more public profile at work.

  2. From a gender homogeous perspective do both genders collaborate more effectivley in same gender groups or what? Also across occupational sectors could you tell me which occupational culture collaborates more effectively. Lastly if you struggle with collaborative engagement does that mean you are not a natural collaborator?

  3. Hey Daniel – thanks for the recent comment here. Lots of really interesting points raised in a few sentences. I’m really not sure about hard evidence re same gender groups but my intuition is that mixed groups work better together else you get imbalance.
    Regarding your second question, I’m not sure what you mean by ‘occupational culture’. Do you mean which sectors or which companies? Can you expand on that so I can respond?
    And regarding your last question, I think we all struggle with collaboration a lot of the time but the good news is it is not entirely inate (even though women may well be more naturally adept at it) and it can be learnt/developed.
    And Tina – I fully agree that we need to start connecting brains early. As a father of 2 young boys and their netork of friends, I’m seeing those gender differences playing out before my eyes.

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