The study, led by Selin Kesebir, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at London Business School, asked 2,331 male and female participants
The study, led by Selin Kesebir, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at London Business School, asked 2,331 male and female participants to identify what they considered good and bad about competition. It also asked them to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with statements about competition.
Overall, there’s no real difference between genders when considering the negative beliefs about competition. But 63 percent of the women were less convinced than the men that competition boosts performance, builds character and leads to innovative solution–that is, men are more likely to see an upside to competition than women are.
As noted by the authors, the study necessitates additional research, raising questions such as how people come to believe what they do about competition and whether women actually experience competition differently than men do.
But the most actionable and immediate question for leaders who want to encourage real inclusion at all levels is how to help women see competition as beneficial and get more involved, both individually and as part of a larger group. For this purpose, it might help to do the following:
1. Present the cold, hard facts.
Further work by Jianmin Tang demonstrates that how people perceive their competitive environment is important for innovation. You might be able to prove statistically through KPIs and other metrics that you see a better result from your own team when there’s some friendly competition, too.
Arm yourself with these objective data so that ladies aren’t able to dismiss your assertion that they’ll win out based solely on how they’re feeling. Break the data down to be clear that the influence includes women and to what exact degree.
2. Offer lessons.
Successful individuals routinely talk about their competitive experiences and what they learned, including how the experience helped them change and develop in a positive way. Or there might be a story that demonstrates a desirable ethical or moral behavior that erupts in the face of competition, such as when tennis star Serena Williams told a crowd at the U.S. open not to boo her triumphant opponent, Naomi Osaka. Share as many of these stories and revelations as possible to show that competition and character growth go hand in hand.
3. Show women other women who are thriving.
Psychologist Dr. Lynn Margolies argues that women shy away from competition at least in part because women overidentify with the insecurities of other ladies–they learn to project how they’d feel in a failure and to feel guilty for success. As a result, women might not engage in activities where they could prove themselves.
To counter this tendency, offer female role models and show that plenty of other women are grabbing prizes, such as by highlighting female executives, entrepreneurs and thought leaders–that is, prove that their personal wins aren’t necessarily going to rob another woman of making it, and that it’s OK to be ambitious.
4. Provide opportunities and clarity about policy.
Again given Margolies’ point, as you provide facts, lessons and real-life examples, give women a way to pay their own success forward, such as mentoring or serving as guest speakers. Women might be less prone to hold back if they know they also can still be protective and make it easier for others. Being clear about gender initiatives in hiring and other areas can also reduce the anxiety that success has to be exclusive to only a few.
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