Are women less competitive

Some reflections on a blog post at Misbehaving, where Gina reports on a story that women may be less competitive then men.

..women may be less effective than men in competitive environments, even if they are able to perform similarly in noncompetitive environments. In a laboratory experiment we observe, as we increase the competitiveness of the environment, a significant increase in performance for men, but not for women. This results in a significant gender gap in performance in tournaments, while there is no gap when participants are paid accornding to piece rate. This effect is strong when women have to compete against men than in single-sex competitive environments.

On the one hand, I feel plenty competitive with respect to real external goals and opponents. Last year, when EFF-Austin was fighting the motion picture and cable industries on the SDMCA, I was dedicated to defeating a terrible plan to restrict the rights of technology users. I sympathize with the cable and content company’s desire to stop wholesale theft. But no sympathy for the harmful tactics our opponents were pursuing.
Objective goals and deadlines are incentives. Excellence and recognition are incentives. I also like to do a good job, and don’t mind if others notice. (not perfectly noble, but true).
On the other hand, internal competition is a de-motivator. In my job, I participate in a sales team and development team. In contests where one person wins at the expense of teammates, everyone loses.
I’ve worked in companies where the managers came up in a “star system” that rewarded talented players for outshining their peers. This system rewarded players who were good at their job — and at sabotaging others. The result harmed the organization overall. The whole would always be less than the sum of the parts.
The study finds that women do as well as men in a piece-rate performance on tasks, but worse then men when the task is set up as a tournament, where one person wins and the rest loses. I wonder whether the study is based the biased assumption that intra-group zero-sum competition is a good thing, and therefore, men are superior to women if they are better at it.
On the one hand, many organizations in the real world work that way. If women are less interested in defeating their peers, they may be less successful in those organizations.
On the other hand, perhaps organizations that don’t work that way are at a competitive advantage. Organizations where team members co-operate to achieve external goals might succeed as well or better than organizations where team members are at each others’ throats.
That would be an interesting topic for further research.

3 thoughts on “Are women less competitive”

  1. six of my seven businesses were done with my wife as co-partner….. i think your observation that they tracked individual vs. group/company performance is a key one.

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