Michelle Haynes of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, had examined how other people evaluate men and women working together. She decided to build on that work to look at how women view themselves on teams.
Haynes and colleagues then set out to design an experiment to examine how women evaluate their own contributions to collaborative work outcomes, particularly when working with men on tasks that are considered to be "masculine."
In a series of four experiments, Haynes' team asked participants to work remotely with another person on tasks traditionally associated with a male role: acting as a managing supervisor at an investment company; in actuality, there was no other teammate. Under various conditions, they received feedback about their team's performance.
When given positive group feedback, the female participants gave more credit to their male teammates and took less credit themselves. They would only credit themselves with success in the task when working with a male if their individual role in the task was clear.
The study also found that women did not undervalue their contributions when their teammates were female.
"This finding is critical because it debunks the notion that what we found is simply a function of women being modest in groups," Haynes said.
"Rather, it underscores how the expectations women hold of themselves, and those they work with, influence how they process group feedback. Furthermore, it reveals that gender continues to play a role in how individuals derive these performance expectations," she added.
These findings contribute to a body of work about how stereotypes affect women in the workplace.
"This is one of many factors, among a great many, that may hinder women's earning power and career progress," Haynes noted.
If women view their own contributions less favorably than they regard the contribution of their male co-workers, it is likely to impact how women view their efficacy at work and the degree to which they are likely to vie for competitive projects and promotions, she added.
The finding was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.