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Women are more collaborative – does that mean they carry a heavier load in the workplace? 


A study published in Harvard Business Review last year shows that women in the workplace disproportionately carry the burden of being agents of collaboration. This is particularly true in workplaces with a relationship bias: that is, workplaces which function on personal connection, a friendly culture, urgent execution and socialized decision-making. When people in such organizations are over-stretched and working on multiple assignments, decisions are made after a series of large meetings, long email threads and lengthy discussions. 

As women are recognized for being more community-oriented and collaborative in their leadership style (also known as, being a “team player”), they have a tendency to over-commit and sacrifice their own personal time/objectives for the greater good. This behavior is fed by a female tendency towards guilt, which then undermines productivity and self-fulfilment.

If women do carve out time, they tend to give it away if someone needs them. In the organizations we studied, the consequence is that women often end up overscheduled, rushing from meeting to meeting. This can have negative consequences on their careers because they risk appearing scattered, late, and unprepared. Their contributions might go unnoticed if their efforts are fragmented across multiple efforts. They won’t have time for focused work.

Renee Cullinan, "In Collaborative Work Cultures, Women Carry More of the Weight," Harvard Business Review Tweet

The danger of these behavioral patterns is not only limited to personal development. Organizations suffer too: Women facing an overload of collaboration are more likely to burn-out and/or leave a company out of frustration. Take a look at the chart above, which shows that the individuals who are highly regarded and in great demand by their colleagues are also the ones with the lowest job satisfaction.

The HBR article recommends establishing a culture of mutual accountability and transparency to counteract the effect of gender-based work imbalances.

Have you come across any interesting gender-specific organizational or leadership insights? Please share them with us at

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