Women ‘happier in cooperative work environment’

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Women are more comfortable than men in a working cooperative environment that involves teamwork, according to a new study.

The research by Peter Kuhn and Marie Claire Villeval, indicates that this is in part because women – even those who are high performing – are less pessimistic than men about the relative performance of their potential colleagues.

In a paper entitled Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men? published in the February edition of the Economic Journal, the researchers says this suggests that introducing voluntary teamwork will have less negative effects in companies that employ a higher share of women.

Kuhn and Villeval analyse the behaviour of men and women when they are asked to choose between receiving either individual performance pay or team payment to perform a task. They find that fewer than 11% of men choose the team payment scheme while 44% of women are attracted by this compensation scheme. The researchers says the difference is mainly explained by the fact that compared with men, women hold much less pessimistic beliefs about the relative performance of their potential team members. They also show that choices change dramatically when they introduce a small economic advantage to the team payment scheme. Then men and women select the team payment scheme in similar proportions.

The researchers found that men reacted more strongly to monetary incentives than women. The conclude that men’s occupational choices can be influenced in favour of teamwork with only small economic incentives.

The study also shows that women’s attraction to teams is affected by the rules for team formation. In particular, when teams are formed by mutual consent, women’s team formation rate increases dramatically and this seems to be driven by a higher inequality aversion of women compared with men.

Kuhn and Villeval also find that the individuals who choose the team compensation scheme tend to perform less well on average than those who choose to be paid based on their own performance. This results from the fact that the less able workers anticipate that by joining a team, they can improve their earnings thanks to the higher productivity of their colleagues. But this is less true for women than for men.

The researchers conclude: “We hope that these results might help shed light on the substantial and continuing gap in the occupational distribution of men and women, even in societies where a great deal of equality of opportunity exists. Indeed, women are still highly overrepresented in the non-profit sector and in helping occupations, both of which arguably involve co-operative production with little marginal financial reward to individual effort. Our results also suggest that replacing tournaments by team-based incentives in highly paid jobs (at least where appropriate given the production technology) might increase women’s representation in those jobs.”

Peter Kuhn is professor of economics at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Marie Claire Villeval is research professor at CNRS-GATE in Lyon.

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