A new study found that female astronauts are better at leading long-term space missions such as a trip to Mars. Since 2021, only three women have served as commanders in the International Space Station.
Male and female astronauts are both heavily task-oriented, female astronauts displayed more qualities of motivation, mutual support, and creating a positive environment. Male astronauts focused on team spirit, loyalty, and accomplishments.
Researchers studied 824 commander reports from 2009 to 2016, 27 female commanders submitted 277 reports and 49 male commanders submitted 541 reports. The commanders’ reports were from a Mars Desert Research Station that replicates a portion of the spaceflight experience.
The author of the study Inga Popovaite spoke about her research findings. She mentioned, “It is traditionally considered that male leaders are task-oriented and women are more sociable leaders, my research has shown that both male and female commanders are equally focused on task completion”.
The study showed that women astronauts more frequently used positive and supportive messages to encourage their team.
The study conducted several types of analysis on the reports – computational sentiment analysis, qualitative study of the content, and word frequency calculations.
Researcher Popovaite found differences between the male and female commanders’ communication.
- The reports by the female astronauts had higher positive sentiment scores and lower negative sentiment scores.
- Both female and male commanders were equally focused on task completion but female commanders had more frequent discussions with their crewmembers.
- In the discussions, female astronauts focused on motivation, mutual support, and a positive environment, male commanders focused on accomplishments, team spirit, and loyalty.
The research showed that male and female leaders rarely differ in task-oriented behaviour and that women are more sociable and communal leaders than men.
Popovaite said that “During the mission, the crew is mainly performing mundane tasks: making food, washing dishes, and tidying the environment”. She added that in such environments, people need to survive for longer periods without emotional and psychological support from their family and friends. That’s why leaders who care about the emotional needs of the crewmembers are more sustainable during long missions, especially during the later stages of the mission.