During my career, I have reported to, worked with, supervised, and competed with both men and women. Having experienced the full spectrum of personality types, I have encountered extremely competitive men and women. The prevailing thought seems to be that men are competitive in the sense that they take greater risks and compete for high-reward positions. In many situations, women were not only comfortable with competition but motivated by a competitive work setting.
In a recent paper by Peter Kuhn of University of California-Santa Barbara, it was reported that women are attracted to team-oriented work because of their need to cooperate with others while men did not have trust in others’ performance and opted for individual assignments. Women in the study would take lower pay to work as part of a team, and men would only opt for a team assignment for a 10% increase in pay. Is that an indication of women being less competitive than men? Perhaps it is only an indication of work style or compensation model preferences.
In a study by Dr. Rakesh Sarin of UCLA, he refuted that women are less competitive than men. In his summary, he states “Sex differences in competition depend on the domain of the competition and one’s familiarity or knowledge with that domain. Both men and women exhibit the same boost in performance when they select to be paid via competition.” That report challenges a common belief that, by nature, men are more competitive than women.
Before you are convinced, consider the study of two experimental economists, Muriel Niederle and Lise Vesterlund. They gleaned from their experiments that men are more competitive than women. They devised a study in which male and female subjects were rewarded for answering math questions correctly. Then in round two, they were rewarded for answering rapidly, and finally offered a chance to select to get paid for each problem solved or to compete in a tournament in the third round. Interestingly, although the males and females math skills proved to be equal on average, the male subjects elected the tournament in the final round twice as frequently as the females. Does this suggest men are more likely to seek competitive environments?
So, what do you think? Who is more competitive at work? Write me and tell me if you find that one gender is more competitive than the other. Or, are the differences merely preferences for different work styles?