SNS Research Brief 90. The impact of gender composition in teams on women’s desire to lead

Eva Ranehill Anna Sandberg

SNS Research Brief 90. The impact of gender composition in teams on women’s desire to lead 37.5 KB PDF


The wage gap in Sweden is largely explained by the respective occupations and positions of women and men, where women are under-represented when it comes to high-wage occupations and high positions. By means of an economic experiment, this report shows that the persistent gender segregation in high positions may partially be due to women being adversely affected by working in environments with a high proportion of men. The report finds that women are much less interested in taking a leading position when randomly allocated to male-dominated groups compared to female-dominated groups. It also shows that women’s lower desire to serve as leaders in male-dominated groups is not driven by a gender difference in terms of skills but to a large extent by the fact that women in these groups have less influence, underestimate their relative performance and expect to receive less support from other group members. This highlights a need to break down existing structures in the labor market, specifically the dominance of men in certain environments, as these may constitute a self-reinforcing process in which women, despite their skills, refrain from approaching male-dominated environments while also being inclined to leave such environments.

Graphics: Desire to lead divided by gender, individual performance and the group’s gender composition

Note: The desire to lead is measured on a scale between 1 and 10. Point estimates are displayed together with 95% confidence intervals illustrated by vertical bars. 

The report is based on an experiment involving 580 students. The participants were randomly allocated to groups with either a majority of women or a majority of men. After solving a task together, the group members were then asked to indicate how willing they were to lead their group in a subsequent task, after which a group leader was appointed. In addition to their desire to lead, the participants’ expected and actual performance, their influence in the group and their expected and actual support in the choice of leader were also measured during the course of the study.


  • Women generally indicate a lower desire to lead their groups compared to men.
  • In addition to the average difference in interest in leading between men and women, women allocated to male-dominated groups are much less interested in leading than women allocated to groups mostly consisting of women. The magnitude of this difference is more or less the same as the average difference in desire to lead between men and women.
  • The difference in desire to lead between men and women is to a large extent driven by women believing that they perform relatively worse, have less influence in the group and expect and receive less support in the choice of leader. These factors are reinforced in groups with many men and also explain a significant portion of the difference in the desire to lead between women in male- and female-dominated groups, respectively.
  • In certain contexts, the gender composition of the environment affects the experiences and outcomes of individuals, thereby having an impact on how we effectively organize groups and identify and promote competence.


  • The gender composition of the environment should be taken into account when allocating individuals to work teams. The report indicates that a strong gender imbalance may have an impact on how work teams perceive the participants’ skills, allocate work tasks and – ultimately – their productivity.
  • This knowledge regarding how the gender composition of the environment affects individuals should also be taken into account when designing various affirmative action measures, such as quotas, in the labor market.


Eva Ranehill has a dual position as professor of economics at Lund University and assistant professor at the University of Gothenburg.

Anna Sandberg is a researcher at the Swedish Institute for Social Research at Stockholm University.