Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Why women don’t compete with men at work

Gender inequalities at work have prompted considerable research. Now new research into women in the workplace has shed light on why women are paid less, may possibly have trouble when it comes to promotion and are under-represented in corporate management positions.

In a paper yet to be published, "The untold story of gender and incentives," two professors at Harvard, Kathleen McGinn chair of the doctoral programs at Harvard Business School, and Iris Bohnet at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Pinar Fletcher, a doctoral student at HBS, suggest that it may be pressure not to compete against men that holds women back, rather than "an innate preference for co-operation over competition."

In a series of experiments, the academics examined how men and women work together in pairs on mathematical and verbal tasks. Do they compete or co-operate, for example? Their early findings indicate that how they perform in the workplace may be linked to the person they are working with.

Story continues below advertisement

A group of 236 men and women were placed in pairs, either same gender or opposite gender, and given either tasks involving co-operation or competition. Overall, both men and women performed better when paired with someone of their own gender. Ms. Fletcher suggests that individuals might feel more comfortable and perform better on same-gender teams, regardless of the nature of the tasks.

"There's a strongly held assumption that men are competitive and women aren't, and our results show otherwise," Prof. McGinn says.

"Men and women work together differently when they're dependent [on each other] versus independent and when they work on stereotypical male or female tasks."

During 2007 and 2008, world oil prices experienced something of a roller coaster ride, with prices per barrel fluctuating by as much as almost $100. It was suggested that the fluctuations were caused by an imbalance between supply and demand; increasing demand from the West and new markets in China and India, coupled with little investment in developing new sources.

However, a professor of management at Stanford Graduate School of Business argues that other factors were to blame for the price volatility.

There was ,says Kenneth Singleton, "an economically and statistically significant effect of investor flows on futures prices." Market investors, he says, did not have all the relevant information about many of the factors influencing the price – including supply, demand and inventories. This was particularly true of emerging economies, where investors lacked some information about demand and inventories.

Because they lacked certain information, as a result, investors tried "to learn more about fundamentals from past market prices or returns." It was these associated trading activities of the market investors as well as supply and demand that determined the oil price, Prof. Singleton suggests.

Story continues below advertisement

In his working paper "Investor Flows and the 2008 Boom/Bust in Oil Prices," Prof. Singleton says, "If index investors are just slightly too optimistic [in market rallies] or pessimistic [in market downturns] relative to the true state of the world, then their errors, while inconsequential for their own welfare, may be material for society as a whole."

Report an error
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at