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That feels... high to me.

I can imagine women like a higher fixed pay to variable pay ratio (we're the 'gatherers', after all;-) but I recently read a post saying that women are "77 percent of women insist that hard work, not connections, account for their advancement" http://blog.hreonline.com/?p=1596.

If this is true, compensation packages based on individual quality of work might be welcome to women who want to advance based on their own hard work rather than team or other performance measures.

Nonetheless, it's a good yellow light for companies trying to reduce fixed pay by increasing variable pay.


I hear you - I was struck the same way.

I don't think the results of this research, at least as I understand them, are at odds with the "77% of women" statistic that you quote. Remember, the issue presented here is not just individual incentives, but individual incentives structured as a competition against one's co-workers. It's one thing to assess and incent me on my individual performance against independent standards and measures (i.e., my own "hard work") - it's quite another to force me to earn my incentive by winning out over my co-workers in a tournament style assessment (which represents the centerpiece of this research).

Of course, even this distinction is not as clear as it would appear on the surface - since we know that individual incentives that reward each person on their own merit and hard work can produce competition ... even unproductive competition.

Nonetheless, as you say, these are points well worth considering for companies thinking to up their variable pay game.

Thanks - always - for the thoughtful comment!

SO I took a look at the article and was interested with this portion:

"The online job ads that attracted the largest proportion of men offered a $12 hourly base pay with a $6 bonus if the employee outperformed other workers."

Now I know that behavioral economists tell us that the results from experiments with low amounts can be applied effectively to high amounts, but I am not convinced.

I wonder what the difference would be if these jobs offered $100/hr plus a potential bonus of $50/hour. Perhaps the more competitive females don't see the $12/hr jobs as worth competing for.

While I do agree that women lean toward a more team-based, balanced environment, I find the difference from this article unlikely to be representative of the US job market as whole.

Of course, any goal-based pay system that incorporates both an individual and a group component is going to be generally more effective for everyone except the absolute top person. Maybe that is a component of this. Perhaps women see an extra $6/hr as not worth doing everything possible to be the ultimate winner. It is common knowledge that there is almost always one person who is willing to stop everything to come in 1st, even when the prize is nominal. Maybe women understand this more innately than men and avoid jobs where there is an "all or nothing" outcome.

Just throwing out random thoughts here... not wedded to any one idea that follows:

Men are traditionally more socialized towards competitive environments while women are usually reared to be supportive rather than aggressive. Very general, of course. Hence, it could be that men tend to be less emotionally involved in situations involving business conflicts (fight hard, then have drinks with their rivals) while women will actually become more emotionally engaged (and thus often more effective in results) but find it more difficult to be "good losers" as men are trained to be. In my experience, women are more ruthless and worse enemies then men. I find nothing contradictory in women insisting their success was due to hard work rather than connections and the concept that women embrace peer-competitions with less enthusiasm than men. They may not feel the need to prove themselves (i.e., their value is a given, not subject to test) as much as men do, nor be as eager to compete against their co-workers for a prize, which boys will do just for fun.

I have earned powerful enemies in board rooms by condemning reward programs that pit employees against each other in Darwinian struggles by observing that the enemy is out there and not in here. Incentive schemes based on internal competitions are destructive rather than constructive, IMHO. Getting ahead at the expense of your co-worker by fomenting rivalry only weakens the coherence of your organization. Creating incentives to fight, sabotage or block the effectiveness of your peers is terribly counterproductive.


I see that Typepad ate my original response to your great comments and observations...

I agree that the research results may not be representative of the dynamics at higher pay levels, and also that the strength of the results may not be representative of the broader labor market. But I do think the core conclusions resonate for me.

Again, I read this as less about individual versus team incentives (although my reactions did get into that distinction) and more about using pay to establish inter-worker competition - and the fact that this is unattractive to a fair share of ALL applicants, but particularly unattractive to women.

Excellent food for thought, though - thanks for sharing your take on it here.


They're good random thoughts - I think I would agree with all of them .... particularly your last paragraph. It is difficult to imagine how reward programs that pit employees against one another can be constructive in the long term - for either the organization or the employees.

Thanks for weighing in!

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