Do we need to ask the question—what do women want—yet again? Extrapolating from laboratory experiments economists conducted recently about men, women and competition, John Tierney suggests that women may not get to the C-suite because they have decided that the extreme (read that “unhealthy”) competition required just isn’t worth it.
Laboratory experiments, by their design, focus on the individual or small group and so it is not surprising that we find gender differences in competition attributed to individual action. But competition is hardly a gender neutral attribute—competition, expected, accepted, and applauded in men can be read quite differently when it is played out by women.
In our research, we have found that women get tested in ways their male peers usually don’t. It may be that some women choose not to spend 16 hours a day on the trading floor— but those that do, don’t do so on a level playing field.. Out of the network, they don’t get client referrals. Their assertive behavior is viewed as aggressive or even worse. And, as a spate of current out of court settlements suggest, they are not generally treated very well by their firms.
When we suggest that the lack of progress for women is a choice women themselves make, we take the responsibility for change away from organizations. Maybe the question we should be asking instead is—do organizations realize how much they lose when they don’t pay attention to the depth and breadth of talent women bring and what can they do to change things?