Men, Women and Business Partnerships

It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. —Charles Darwin

Effective collaboration is at the core of successful business partnerships, but it is a balancing act. Collaboration can result in better products and services but can also be time-consuming and negatively affect profitability. We recently completed a survey of over 130 business partners, looking for trends in how they collaborate to create satisfying, and profitable, partnerships. In reviewing the results, one of the issues we looked at was whether there were differences in how the gender mix of the partnership affected satisfaction among partners.

Men and women collaborate for greater profitability; less satisfaction

In our study, those in mixed-gender partnerships were the most satisfied with the monetary success of their firms (91% monetary satisfaction rate) followed closely by those in the all-male partnerships (87%), with all-female partnerships lagging significantly. Just 62% of those in partnerships comprised of women were satisfied with the monetary success of their business.

But the monetary success of mixed-gender partnerships may come at a cost. When we look at satisfaction with partners, the results were reversed: mixed-gender groups were least satisfied with their partners. About two-thirds said that they would choose all of the same partners again vs. almost 91% of all-female partnerships. Seventy percent of all-male partners said they would choose the same partners again.

These results support academic research about gender in work teams, generally: that gender diversity is good for profitability, but not-so-great for overall satisfaction. A 2014 study on gender-diverse work teams by MIT and George Washington University found greater satisfaction among those working on same-gender teams, but that mixed-gender teams were more productive. In fact, this study estimated that mixed- gender teams can add 41% in additional revenue. The authors theorized that those on same-gender teams were more satisfied because they were more likely to socialize with those they work with, but that this led to lower productivity.

Profitability is not what drives partner satisfaction, it’s “the business itself, the work you do”

Across all partnerships in our study, though, profitability is not the strongest driver of satisfaction. Most (52%) considered “the business itself, the work you do” to be of primary importance. This may be why, though profitability is highest among mixed-gender groups, satisfaction is lowest. It may also be that mixed-gender partnerships are generally larger groups of partners. There may be other elements of control and communication that are lost in bigger partnerships that also lead to lower satisfaction rates.

For all-female partnerships it may not be a matter of socializing, but collaboration, that leads to lower financial satisfaction. Academic research indicates that women tend to have a more collaborative style. It may be that those in all-female firms gain satisfaction from the quality of their work, which is achieved through strong collaboration among partners, but this approach can be less profitable.

As in most studies of trends, what is most important is what the tradeoffs might mean for achieving the financial and personal success in your own partnership. Awareness of these issues can help set expectations that allow you to maximize the benefits, and minimize the challenges, of your partnership.

Adapted from The Partnership Resource 2015 Survey Results and Analysis