Focusing Competition to Enhance Productivity

It’s a myth that the gender wage gap exists because women are not as competitive as men. A recent McKinsey study found that women negotiate as often as men for promotions and raises, a form of competition, but they receive more negative feedback when they do. Coren Apicella and Johanna Mollerstrom’s new research, published in the New York Times, shows that while women and men do sometimes compete differently, women can be just as competitive as men. Apicella and Mollerstrom report that women do shy away from some—but not all—types of competition more than men. In an experiment conducted by the researchers, women chose to compete against another person less often than was true for men, but they were just as likely to choose self-competition. Women and men were equally likely to choose to compete against themselves to improve their own previous score—and equally likely to improve their performance. Apicella and Mollerstrom also found that women were more willing to compete against other women than against men. This agrees with my own research findings on women’s relationships in the workplace, published in my book New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together. The competitive feelings between women colleagues, which can result in unsupportive behaviors, happen for a reason: organizations actually set up women to feel competitive with one another. This happens when women see very few other women in senior leadership positions. As one of my research participants explained: You’re playing a game with men because there are so few women at the top. Because there are few slots for women, you see the successful women as your competition. You don’t really see the whole pie or all the people out there as your competition.  

What Bosses Can Do

When managers and supervisors understand the gender differences I’ve described here, they can adjust strategies, motivating women to engage in healthy competition that promotes growth and productivity. Here are some strategies:
  • Create opportunities that focus on self-improvement and mastery rather than competition with colleagues.
  • Provide feedback to female employees about their relative performance compared with male and female peers so that they can decide whether or not to compete with others.
  • Raise awareness for women about the propensity of women to shy away from conflict so that they can reflect on why they may not feel comfortable competing with others.
  • Encourage women to support other women in a caring and genuine way and openly celebrate their successes.
  • Help women create a positive mindset about competing with other women rather than against other women as a win/win approach that can encourage each to do her best.
What are your feelings about competition? What have you learned about managing women and supporting their success in the workplace? Let us hear from you.   Photo courtesy of WOCinTech Chat. CC by 2.0]]>

Why Do Many Women Prefer a Male Boss?

Gallup survey confirmed that both women and men prefer a male boss. While the percentage who prefer a female boss has increased since 1953 when Gallup began asking this question, women would still choose a male (40 percent) over a female (27 percent) boss by a 13-percent margin. If almost half of the women in the workforce do not want to be led by women, this could pose a significant challenge for us as female leaders. One reason for this lack of support for female leaders might be the different expectations that many women have of how female leaders should behave. A participant in my research on women’s workplace relationships reflected a sentiment I heard frequently from both research participants and my coaching clients. The participant, a financial services manager, said, “I worked for a woman who was more task focused, which made it really uncomfortable for me. When a guy does that [is task focused], it doesn’t bother me as much.” Another research participant, who worked as a human resources manager, described her disappointment with a female boss who was not as friendly as she expected. She said, “I would rather work for a man. Then I would know what to expect.” Where do these different expectations come from? My research reveals that women expect more from a relationship with female leaders; these relational expectations reflect something I call women’s friendship rules. Women expect female leaders to build connection and trust through sharing and listening. Yet the masculine norms of most workplaces discourage relationship work as a “waste of time” or “coddling” and instead value task focus and autonomy. A woman engineer recently told me that she received a lower performance rating than she thought she deserved and was told that she spends too much time chatting with her staff, listening to them, and asking for their input. She was told that to prove herself ready for advancement, she has to demonstrate toughness and stop coddling her predominantly female staff. Her team’s results were terrific, but her style did not match the company norm for effective leadership. Her superiors did not understand that she was doing what she had to do to get such positive results. Adopting a masculine style and staying aloof from your employees might seem to be the simplest action you can take. However, scholars show the importance of relational skills for effective leadership, and staying aloof can backfire for a female leader. Not only might other women at your workplace feel uncomfortable with you, but your aloofness might also demotivate them and affect their productivity. We’ll look at other reasons that many women say they prefer a male boss in future blogs. Of course, not all women dislike having female bosses. Many women in my study and many female clients report feeling supported by female leaders in a way they do not experience with men. For example, these women said that their female leaders are more understanding about their struggles with deciding when to start a family or their needing time off for children’s events. Three Tips for Leading Women Here are some actions you can take to address your staff’s expectations and be an effective leader of women:

  1. Be friendly and relational with female staff members. Show an interest in the personal lives of your staff by asking about their weekends and vacations and inquiring about sick spouses or children. But be sensitive to cultural differences. In some cultures, sharing personal information outside of the family is not appropriate. The only way to be sure you are being sensitive is to ask people what is comfortable for them.
  2. Share some personal information about yourself, within limits. For example, share stories about your weekends, family, and hobbies.
  3. Listen to complaints and problems—but put boundaries on how much time you are willing to do so. Let people know that you want to know when something is wrong in their personal or work lives and that you will help find solutions if you can. You need to know if something is distracting them from their work or if they are facing other barriers to their productivity, and they need to feel that you care about them as human beings.
The plethora of books about effective leadership rarely acknowledge that women often need one leadership style for leading men and a different style for leading women, while men can use the same style effectively with both genders. We can adjust our leadership styles to meet the different needs of the women and men who work for us. Our challenge is to use the leadership style that works best for those we are leading.]]>