Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Women and Competition

This absolutely rang true to me. I absolutely would rather earn 50 cents per math problem than be in a tournament. In fact, I think my life path has been determined by my aversion to competition. I am one of very few singers of Jewish, Irish, Serbian, and Greek music in North Carolina, and I like it that way.

Excerpted from
What Women Want
by John Tierney for the New York Times, May 24 2005

Suppose you could eliminate the factors often blamed for the shortage of women in high-paying jobs. ... Would women make as much as men?

Economists recently tried to find out in an experiment in Pittsburgh by paying men and women to add up five numbers in their heads. At first they worked individually, doing as many sums as they could in five minutes and receiving 50 cents for each correct answer. Then they competed in four-person tournaments, with the winner getting $2 per correct answer and the losers getting nothing.

On average, the women made as much as the men under either system. But when they were offered a choice for the next round - take the piece rate or compete in a tournament - most women declined to compete, even the ones who had done the best in the earlier rounds. Most men chose the tournament, even the ones who had done the worst.

The men's eagerness partly stemmed from overconfidence, because on average men rated their ability more highly than the women rated theirs. But interviews and further experiments convinced the researchers ... that the gender gap wasn't due mainly to women's insecurities ... It was due to different appetites for competition.

"Even in tasks where they do well, women seem to shy away from competition, whereas men seem to enjoy it too much," Professor Niederle said. "The men who weren't good at this task lost a little money by choosing to compete, and the really good women passed up a lot of money by not entering tournaments they would have won."

Now that so many employees (and more than half of young college graduates) are women, running a business like a tournament alienates some of the most talented workers and potential executives. It also induces competition in situations where cooperation makes more sense.

The result is not good for the bottom line, as demonstrated by a study from the Catalyst research organization showing that large companies yield better returns to stockholders if they have more women in senior management.

Some of the best-paying jobs require crazed competition and the willingness to risk big losses - going broke, never seeing your family and friends, dying young.

The women in the experiment who didn't want to bother with a five-minute tournament are not likely to relish spending 16 hours a day on a Wall Street trading floor.

For two decades, academics crusading for equality in the workplace have been puzzled by surveys showing that women are at least as satisfied with their jobs and their pay as men are. This is known as "the paradox of the contented female worker."

But maybe it's not such a paradox after all. Maybe women, like the ones who shunned the experimental tournament, know they could make more money in some jobs but also know they wouldn't enjoy competing for it as much as their male rivals. They realize, better than men, that in life there's a lot more at stake than money.

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At 9:21 AM, Anonymous colleenR said...

It rings true for me as well, but maybe because I'm not good at adding in my head. My hand is an extension of my mind and is at its best while holding a pen. The idea of this competition makes me feel quesy.

At 9:47 AM, Blogger Mirty said...

Thank God someone is finally saying something sensible on this issue.

I work in a "boy's" environment. I'm the only woman on a network services team. I have yet to encounter a man who will work with me as a team member instead of as a competitor. I have no interest in competing.

At this point, I would happily take a drop in pay to work in a more team-oriented and less competitive environment. But most people (men) who go into this field are hyper-competitive, so a cooperative environment is very hard to find.

At 10:27 PM, Blogger kenju said...

I abhor competition too. My husband is always teasing me (berating me) because of it. He wants to turn everything into a competition and the very idea turns me off. I DO like to win a Scrabble, however!


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