The impact of competitiveness on gender equality in the workplace

There are many different ways to talk about workplace competitiveness: the easiest one is to describe competitiveness as solely an individual trait that a man or woman either possesses or does not possess. This overlooks a very rich tradition of introducing competitiveness (and, consequently, rewards and promotion) by superiors in an organization, with the aim of encouraging work zeal and thus job performance. Furthermore, this assessment overlooks an important fact of gender bias that prevents non-stereotypically behaved men and women from competing fairly.

There are several reasons for such a situation. Firstly, taking into account structural barriers women face in pursuing higher job positions in their professional careers: gender stereotypes that develop already during primary socialization leads women to select stereotypically female professions. Further on, after graduation, women who want or hope to move forward face the glass ceiling. Including into this also the pay gap and unpaid domestic labour that women face, it is obvious that female entry into work competition is difficult, to say the least.

Moreover, behavioural economists have recently provided further explanations of gender disparities – both in the stage of education and later when looking at the results that both genders are achieving at work. In controlled experimental environments, scientists found that choices of both genders are influenced by differences in preferences, beliefs, and identification with a socially attributed gender role (based on internalized gender stereotypes). Out of the observed behavioural traits, competitiveness proved to be one of the most important predictors of career progress and later on, income. Experiments have shown that women are avoiding competing in advance, and even more interestingly, that women, after having failed in some form of workplace competition, never again decide to try again. The test shows us the impact of pre-cultivated gender stereotypes and gender norms for women; competitiveness and hierarchy of the employees according to competences are shown to women as unnatural or even unacceptable processes in which they will always loose.

The scientists also offered to women and men several different rewards for their success at performing a task. Men and women in the experiment had to decide on the type of the reward they would want to receive: the first option was based solely on individual’s performance, the second option was to receive a higher reward if a person outperformers the rest of the contestants. Women in the majority selected the first, simpler option that requires neither confrontation nor competition with other employees in an organisation. Women, who tried to compete with others in the first round and lost, decided in 60% that they will no longer continue competing and would not re-enter the competition. Interestingly, to put it bluntly, just over 20% of men who lost at the beginning decided to make a similar decision [1]. Given that competition today is a daily practice of work processes and that it takes place in most work environments – from promotion opportunities to funding opportunities (research, additional training, scholarships, etc.) in the context of understanding competitiveness in organizations, it is imperative that we also speak about the impact that competitions has on gender mainstreaming in an enterprise.

Given that failure is a component of every individual’s career, it takes good leadership to manage professional failures of the employees at the workplace.

In the long haul, competitiveness emphasizes, in particular, the merits of success or blame for the failure of each individual, but neglects the strength and positive qualities of the group. Especially highly qualified women will certainly lose in this field, as they try to avoid this type of career-building, and the potential failures affect them more negatively than their male counterparts. Again, this can be explained by the low proportion of women in high-level positions – let’s just mention that in 2019 Fortune magazine proclaimed the highest proportion of women among the 500 most successful CEOs and U.S. directors to date – and this proportion is still less than 7%.

Companies that are aware of the importance of creating a stimulating work environment that anticipates the presence of gender stereotypes and the presence of structural barriers, can certainly avoid the passivity and disinterest of female employees by implementing GEMA Certificate measures. Namely, they enable the processes that will influence your company’s understanding of gender stereotypes and unconscious biases at the workplace. The measures will influence objective employment processes through the implementation of new actions to enhance employee satisfaction at work. Namely, in the process of implementing the Certificate, existing gender stereotypes are constantly addressed and sought to be eliminated so as to create a stimulating work environment in which both genders can succeed.

[1] The full survey and its findings are available at Do Women Give Up Competing More Easily? Evidence from the Lab and the Dutch Math Olympiad, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Vol. 11, No 3, July 2019.


Work satisfaction of (all) your employees

Every company that wants to offer its employees a stimulating work environment in the age of relentless competition has to start with employee satisfaction. This is an investment with long-term and far-reaching consequences that gives the company more opportunities to develop, while the employees are given the environment to which they are happy to return to.

There is no uniform definition of work satisfaction; however, science from the field of organisational structures agrees that precisely work satisfaction merits a lot of energy, time and financial resources by the company, since its gains are, in comparison to the inputs, multiplied. Work satisfaction depends on the individual predispositions that each employee cultivates about himself/herself,  his/her work and job position, and last but not least, his/her professional ambitions. In addition to this personal belief, employee satisfaction at work is influenced by a large number of other factors, which shows both the complexity and the importance of this concept. In the section Human Resource Management (1998, Faculty of Social Sciences, Ljubljana, p. 152), Ivan Svetlik associates employee satisfaction with the satisfaction of four basic needs:

(1) material needs – these are needs gathered in “to have”, which we satisfy with our salary and other material benefits that employment brings;

(2) safety needs – safety deriving from the stability of our employment (financial security of the future) and social and health insurance deriving from employment contract. In this context we also talk about safety in its most basic form: safety at workplace and within the environment to which we are exposed everyday during work.

(3) social needs – employees are satisfied when they cultivate good relationships with other employees (both superiors and subordinates), when these lead them to bee included into different forms of team work. This raises their work satisfaction and their performance at work.

(4) personal needs – the need to ‘be’, whereby we measure the ability of employees to participate in decision-making processes, access to additional education and trainings.

Adding to this are key points of human relations theories (Strauss, 1968) that explain that the well-being of an employee increases his/hers morale at work; or the theory of emotions (Straw et. al., 1994) which shows that employee’s emotional states are significantly related to their productivity levels.

Even if we measure the performance of an organization through profit alone: the studies conducted by Edmans (2011 and 2012) showed a clear link between employee satisfaction and long-term returns in the stock market. Companies that recorded higher levels of employee satisfaction between the years 1984 and 2011 had in this same period also between 2.3% and 3.8% higher profitability than the industry average.

In our time of fast global changes and technology advances it is imperative that companies and organisations do not forget about their employees and their respective values, feelings and their attitudes towards their workplace – which is something that even the most advanced technologies cannot offer.

On the other hand, the entry of technology and artificial intelligence into various work processes could represent a danger for positive relationships established among employees, which truly points out that the success of a company today depends on the level of satisfaction of employees in a company.

In December 2018 A. T. Kearney performed a research that aimed to check satisfaction (as a person’s primary emotion – positive well-being towards which an individual strives) and broader experience and feelings that individuals experience during work. They selected 500 employees from North and South America, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia-Pacific region. Employees’ responses shed light on an important indicator: how do the employees interpret the feeling of satisfaction and to which other concepts they relate it to. Most of the respondents related job satisfaction to their direct feelings of harmony at work, their influence and recognition for the work they are performing. According to results of the research, every worker wants his/hers work to be appreciated and that the employer recognises the efforts he or she deserves.  

In addition to this, A. T. Kearney survey showed that it is very important for workers to believe that the work done by the organization has a broader positive impact on society: not only an immediate one, but also in the long term. Satisfied employees also achieve consensus more easily than the rest and more easily work together towards the vision of the organization. Especially for the generation of millennials who will shape our future, acting toward a larger goal is a necessary work-related motivation. Although research shows that gender is not directly affecting by employee satisfaction, employers should be aware of the unconscious gender biases, stereotypes, and prejudice that can potentially harm both genders in the workplace and thus reduce overall employee satisfaction.

For all companies and organisations that value employee satisfaction obtaining GEMA Certificate means a step towards the right direction. By acquiring the latter and making the changes that GEMA introduces to the structure and culture of the organisation, GEMA actively engages in all four (4) mentioned spheres of employee needs, thus facilitating higher levels of their work satisfaction. It offers measures to address work and life balance of all employees (remember, above all, women face barriers at the workplace as a consequence of their domestic work and vice versa), regulations of the pay get (ensuring equal pay satisfaction), gender balance at all levels and consequential influence of all employees on work-processes, building of an inclusive organisational culture that provides a space for integration of suggestions and ideas of the employees that work towards a vision of their organisation.