Editor's Note: As a woman, a mother of two (young adults: one male, one female) and a science book nerd, I found Louann Brizendine's book The Female Brain fascinating for its deep dive into the neurological and even endocrinological differences in our brains. And so my antennae perk up whenever I see claims about gender differences in response to rewards, like the article and research highlighted in today's Cafe Classic. Thought it would be interesting to revisit it.
Here's a piece of information that caught my attention yesterday, via Harvard Business Review's The Daily Stat:
Men were 94% more likely than women to apply for a job if its salary potential was described as being highly dependent on competition with other employees.
THAT is interesting. Men are nearly twice as likely to pursue a role with pay based on competition? While the fact of this difference didn't really surprise me, the size of it did.
Neuroscientists have told us that women, on a neurological level, are wired to ease interpersonal conflict while men are geared to enjoy and even get a positive boost from it. Does this mean, then, that men naturally gravitate toward - and women away from - competitive incentives?
A deeper look at the research (authored by University of Chicago economics professor John List and others) Do Competitive Workplaces Deter Female Workers? suggests that the reality is, in fact, more nuanced than that. And while it is impossible to do justice to a 48 page research paper in a short blog post, here are a few of the notable results highlighted by the researchers (and paraphrased by me).
-Competitive workplaces (defined as those with a "individual tournament-based" pay approach which features a significant proportion of variable pay based on competition with other workers) significantly increase the gender gap in application, with women's likelihood of applying for the position dropping substantially relative to that of men. Note that this is where we see that 94% number crop up.
-The gap is not driven by men opting to compete and women opting not to compete, but rather a significantly stronger aversion to competitive workplaces among women than among men. In other words, the presence of the competive incentive approach discourages both men and women from applying - its just that the effect is much stronger for women.
-Several factors related to the workplace affect the gender gap including the degree to which compensation is linked to relative performance and whether the arrangement is team-based. So, the more strongly leveraged the pay package (the greater the proportion of the competition-based incentive relative to fixed salary), the more aversion women show to it ... but introducing the element of a team makes it more attractive (or at least less unattractive) to them.
Bottom line, it would appear that both men and women prefer non-competitive pay "regimes" - but evidence suggests that competitive incentives are a much stronger "turn off" for women.
What can HR and compensation pros take away from this? Here are a couple of thoughts, and I'd love to hear yours. I think the findings of this research should encourage us to use care and caution in developing reward packages - outside of sales* - that are overwhelmingly leveraged on individual performance, particularly where individual performance is measured in a way that encourages competition among co-workers. And where a competitive element is demanded by the role or surrounding busines conditions, we should remember that introducing a balancing element of team rewards might be a key to employee acceptance.
*Because this research was conducted with non-sales jobs and applicants, I don't think we can draw any conclusions about sales compensation from it. Anyway, as we all know, sales people are different...
Ann Bares is the Editor of Compensation Café, Author of Compensation Forceand Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group LLC, where she provides compensation consulting services to a wide range of client organizations. She earned her M.B.A. at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School and enjoys reading in her spare time. Follow her on Twitter at @annbares.
Image courtesy of: old.penn-olson.com