Automatic entry into career advancing competitions could help women, study suggests

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A new study shows that women are still underrepresented in leadership positions. This could be solved by eliminating self-nomination from competition selection processes.

The study suggests that instead of trying to influence change by encouraging women "leaning in" to climb corporate ladders or trying to control employer bias, redesigning the selection process is more promising.

Joyce He, a recent graduate of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, is now an assistant professor of management and organizational studies at UCLA Anderson School of Management. This study was part of her doctoral dissertation.

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Everyone was automatically signed up to the more competitive process. Women were almost equal to men and often earned more.

"A lot research shows that women are not competitive in their dispositions," says Prof. Professor. He co-authored the study along with Profs. Sonia Kang, Nicola Lacetera and Nicola Lacetera supervised her dissertation. Prof. Kang is the Canada Research Chair on Identity, Diversity and Inclusion. She is also an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, both at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Rotman School. Lacetera is a professor of strategy management at the University of Toronto Mississauga as well as the Rotman School.

Participants were given small amounts of money in the first two experiments for correctly solving as many mental calculations as they could within five minutes. Participants could earn up to four times more if they choose a more difficult task, outscoring their competitors or getting nothing. Both genders performed roughly the same but 47% chose the competitive version, while 73% chose it for men. There was almost no gap75% for women when everyone was automatically entered, compared with 76% for men. Similar results were obtained in the second experiment.

Another experiment was conducted online using freelance data entry workers. It replicated those results. The workers could choose to receive piecemeal or be offered a more difficult, better-paying job. Selection was based upon their previous piecemeal work performance. However, if they were not selected they could lose their job. Equally qualified women were less likely to apply for the more lucrative and challenging job than their male counterparts, but the gender gap decreased when they had to compete.

Prof. He. One reason could be that the opt out condition decreased women's uncertainty regarding whether or not they should compete, sending a strong signal to them that it was okay and normal to compete.

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The paper is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Continue reading: Enhance gender diversity in leadership by "opting out" of the default

More information: Opt out choice framing reduces gender differences in the decision of whether to compete in the laboratory or in the field, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021). Information from the Journal: Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences. Opt-out choice framing reduces gender differences in decision to compete in laboratory and field.