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Interesting and provocative information.

You may recall that a couple of years ago Larry Summers was forced out of his job as President of Harvard University merely for hypothesizing – in a kind of gedankexperiment – that the statistical under-representation of women in STEM occupations and the professoriate thereof was a consequence of (1) innate differences between men and women, and (2) womens’ time allocation preferences.

So my first thought is astonishment that there are present-day academicians who are oblivious or indifferent to the likelihood that research around innate differences between men and women is folly and career suicide.

And my second thought is that any attempt to tailor reward programs around supposed innate differences between men and women is folly and career suicide.

We have nearly always liked "team-based rewards". Our assumption, and that of many other observers, is that is creates a 'we' rather than a 'me' attitude around goal performance. So for a time we left a 'trail' of team-based plans of all sorts in our 'wake'. It did not have anything to do with the gender of the workforce--it just seemed 'best'. However, once we began to do some research focused somewhat on 'preference and opinions' we began to find that one powerful reason organizations liked 'team rewards' was the perceived inability to objectively evaluate individual performance and in some instances the problem some workforces have with being judged individually at all. Those two issues seemed to influence the results of 'team-based rewards' more than the gender mix of the workforce.

In many instances this all comes down to the perceived and real ability of leaders and organizations to objectively evaluate performance at all and the willingness to do so. I wonder if that is any gender issue relative to the ability and willingness to have individual performance evaluated. So many questions and so few answers.


Yes - I do recall the Larry Summers incident, and (frankly) I also anticipated that this post might itself ruffle a few feathers. Which is ok; provoking is part of our mission.

Academics aren't the only ones who found the topic of innate gender differences to be worth studying and noting; a few brave journalists/periodicals have embraced the study as well ... see articles in Fast Company http://www.fastcompany.com/3020561/leadership-now/why-women-collaborate-men-work-alone-and-everybodys-mad?partner and The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/08/why-women-prefer-working-together-and-why-men-prefer-working-alone/278888/

I think understanding how different individuals and groups respond to rewards should be an important part of our education, although (as you note) it carries with it the potential penalties of political incorrectness. While I don't mean to suggest we take information like this and, with broad brush, simply tailor our reward programs to gender (or any other demographic distinction) - I think it could be one piece of information that might help us understand and approach work and reward problems like: Why is our organization having difficulty retaining women? What is behind the resistance to collaboration that our organization is experiencing? And this: in an age where relationships and collaboration are an important key to organizational success, what steps can we take to tip our culture and competencies in that direction?


I also like team rewards, and urge their consideration for clients where they say (and their mission/strategy statements reinforce) that collaboration and cross-functional cooperation is critical to their business success HOWEVER all their reward/reinforcement programs are individual-based. In this way, they can help align the way people are paid with the way they are supposed to be working.

Like you, I also find team-rewards used for the practical reason that it is difficult (or the organization hasn't yet gained competency) to measure individual performance effectively. In a similar sense, I often recommend team rewards as a first step for organizations who want to start down the variable pay path but don't have the performance measurement/management systems in place to support individual incentives.

And yes! So many questions and so few answers. And the purpose of this post - really - was simply to bring some interesting information to light for reflection and conversation.


For more controversy, see the studies of gender bias (i.e., http://www.cookross.com/docs/unconsciousbiasinperformance2013.pdf) in performance appraisal. Frequently attributed as a source of bias in competency models, suspect it is both cause and effect, with deeply influential outcomes affecting all performance management attempts. If the occupations being clustered for team rewards are gender-specific, the problems just move to a different (systemic) level. Remember Helen Remick's research on how "women's dirt" is valued less than "male dirt?"

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