Could competing in teams help more women reach leadership positions?

14 Sep

Women prefer to compete as part of a team, while men prefer to compete as individuals. No surprise in this statement per se – but the findings of a report into the ‘gender competition gap’ suggest that this fact could have implications for how organisations select the best-qualified leaders.

Research from economists Andrew Healy and Jennifer Pate in Economic Journal, as reported in The Observer, show that women are more willing to put themselves forward for competitions if they’re part of a team. In a test competition, 81% of men chose to compete by themselves, compared with just 28% of women – even when both genders are equally qualified. However, when they had to compete in teams, 45% of women put themselves forward, compared with 67% of men.

The research suggests that this gender competition gap explains why so few women reach top leadership positions. In competitive situations – such as reaching for a CEO job – the fact that men are more likely to compete means that they are more likely to put themselves forward, even if they’re not as qualified. While qualified women are more likely to opt out.

The academics suggest measuring performance on team ability rather than individual achievement as a way of levelling the playing field and helping organisations identify their top talent and nurture it.

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