The United States Military Academy began hosting the Sandhurst International Regimental Skills Competition in 1967, nine years before the first female cadets arrived on campus in 1976 and a lifetime ago to the 282 women who make up 22 percent of the West Point class of 2020.
Such dates and data interest Kyle Emich, assistant professor of management in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. Emich and his colleagues (Elizabeth McClean, lead author on this piece and Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations, University of Arizona; Sean Martin, Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations, Boston College and Lt. Col. Todd Woodruff, Professor of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, U.S. Military Academy) collected a large amount of data during the Sandhurst competition from the 36 West Point teams competing — each comprised of 11 Cadets, including at least one female, with a particular interest in what it might reveal about how teams choose leaders.
“When we began the study, we set out to be gender neutral — which is true of a lot of social science research,” Emich says. “But in this case, the degree to which women were being disadvantaged was so stark we could not ignore it. ”
Specifically, Emich and his colleagues took a closer look at how “voice” — when a Cadet speaks up with a proposed change or improvement for the team – impacts who emerges as a team leader.
Throughout the Sandhurst competition, Emich explains, each team is charged with identifying members who might lead them the following year. “We began with the assumption that Cadets who spoke up during the competition and who made suggestions for change would be assigned more status and be more likely to be chosen as the team’s leader the following year.”
“While this assumption is true for men,” he says, “it is decidedly untrue for women.”
Men who spoke up, especially suggesting new tactics, usually found themselves one of the top two candidates to lead the team the following year, whereas women speaking up the same amount, in the same way, only made it to the top eight – the same as men who did not speak up at all.
“Women got no benefit at all,” Emich says.
It is worth noting that these findings were from a male-dominated military environment — 16 percent of Emich’s sample was female. However, this isn’t necessarily unique. Women make only 15 percent of equity partners in U.S. legal services, 12 percent of officers in U.S. financial firms, and 9 percent of managers in Silicon Valley.
Still, the researchers wanted to test the validity of their findings, so they asked MBA students to listen to a team meeting in a real estate call center – an industry that is roughly 50 percent women — and evaluate behavior that signaled leadership qualities.
In the lab, the team could also control for content, meaning that they could test if people reacted differently to men and women saying the same thing.
It turned out that women still received no benefit, even when making comments identical to men.
“The results were basically the same,” Emich said. “There was some minor variation, which might account for the heavily male culture of the military academy. But in both cases women were ignored, and thus were less likely to be seen as having leadership potential.”
Emich arrived at Lerner in 2015, joining an already strong Lerner business faculty. His interests include organizational behavior, emotions, and workplace groups and teams.