As the parent of one young man and one young woman, I've had opportunity to observe some interesting examples of the differences between males and females. A particular example comes to mind.
My son was and still is a hockey player, so I've had lots of chances to observe male hockey behavior (some examples of which drove me behind the bleachers where I hid, cringing, until the game was over) but little exposure to female players. Working concessions at a local tournament one weekend, I caught a few minutes of a girls' game just when one of the players was hit hard and took a fall. The whistle blew, the action on the ice stopped, and the young woman who had hit her opposing teammate reached a hand down, helped her to her feet and gave her a hug.
Yes ... GAVE HER A HUG! Something I can say with near certainty would never, ever happen in boy's hockey. And not the first time I witnessed striking differences - especially in competitive settings - between the behavior of girls and boys.
According to neuropsychiatrist Louann Breizendine, who wrote the fascinating book The Female Brain, studies indicate that women are motivated, on a molecular and neurological level, to ease and even prevent conflict. She explains this particular difference between the functioning of female and male brains:
The female brain has a far more negative alert reaction to relationship conflict and rejection than does the male brain. Men often enjoy interpersonal conflict and competition; they even get a positive boost from it. In women, conflict is more likely to set in motion a cascade of negative chemical reactions...
Brizendine further tells of research conducted by Dr. Robert Josephs at the University of Texas, finding that "men's self-esteem derives more from their ability to maintain independence from others, while women's self-esteem is maintained in part by the ability to sustain intimate relationships with others."
Now this is not really new news, but the question for us centers on what implications these findings might have for rewards. Which is exactly the question that Peter J. Kuhn and Marie-Claire Villeval of the National Bureau of Economic Research set out to answer in the research they summarized in a recently published working paper titled "Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men?"
The researchers ran a "real-effort" lab experiment allowing undergraduate men and women to select (and be compensated for) team-work versus solo-work, and then re-ran the experiment where they tweaked the compensation method to increase the reward for the outputs of team performance by about 10 percent. In arguably their most significant finding, Kuhn and Villeval state that more than three times as many women as men (22.73% versus 7.14%) chose to be paid on a team basis, a choice made under the initial baseline conditions where there was no compensation advantage presented for team production and despite the fact that the team situation could (in principle) expose the participant to a risk of free-riding by a "self-interested teammate." Check out the chart below to see this finding - and then take a look at what happens when compensation is tweaked modestly (by 10%) to introduce a team advantage.
The gender gap in willingness to join or form a team disappears when a pay advantage is introduced. In other words, men appear to be more likely than women to have their behavior and choices regarding competition versus collaboration impacted by the introduction of a team-based pay element.
The researchers conclude by sharing their hope that these results will "shed new light on gender differences in the tendency to gravitate to situations where cooperation rather than competition is rewarded."
Your thoughts? Your take?
Ann Bares is the Founder and Editor of the Compensation Café, Author of Compensation Force and Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group LLC, where she provides compensation consulting to a range of client organizations. Ann serves as President Elect of the Twin Cities Compensation Network (the most awesome local reward network on the planet) and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Compensation & Benefits Review, the leading journal for those who design, implement, evaluate and communicate total rewards. She earned her M.B.A. at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, is a bookhound and foodie in her spare time. Follow her on Twitter at @annbares.