Co-worker conflict: Women undermine peers they dislike

Are women contributing to the gender gap at work?

Co-worker conflict: Women undermine peers they dislike

Are women contributing to the gender gap at work?

A small study of 32 participants by economists at the University of Hamburg, Germany found that women are more likely to undermine their peers if they don’t like each other.

Men, however, cooperated and supported other male peers, regardless of their feelings toward one another. They’re more likely to penalise others only in mixed gender groups.

The authors explained that in many interactions a woman has in the workplace, ‘likeability’ is either an asset or a hurdle. When placed in same-sex or mixed-gender pairs, women’s contributions at work thus depended on how they felt about their female partner, reported Science Alert.

“For men, on the other hand, likeability matters only if they interact with the opposite sex,” the authors said. “As soon as one of them (or both) is a woman, however, the situation changes.

“Then, likeability considerations become relevant, turning low likeability into a disruptive factor – in a sense an exogenous ‘hurdle’ – that impedes successful cooperation and reduces performance outcomes. Women always face this potential hurdle, men don’t.”

READ MORE: Do your workers prefer a male or a female boss?

The economists demonstrated the findings through a social experiment. Two partners were put in groups, some single sex, others, mixed. They were told to give imaginary financial rewards for cooperation and coordination.

Before the ‘game’, each participant was given a photograph of their teammates and asked to rank whether they seem likeable or not at first sight. They were also told how they had been ranked by teammates.

The aim was to keep more rewards for yourself and win off your partner’s contribution for the ‘joint investment’.

In single-sex groups, women who didn’t like their partner contributed 30% less on average than those who felt some mutual affinity. For men, liking one another made little difference – the average contributions were similar.

Only when the teams were mixed did men contribute less if they disliked their partners. When mutual likeability was low, men gave 50% less than if they both liked each other.

In mixed groups, women gave 37% less if they didn’t like their partner.

“Our results hint at the existence of a likeability factor that offers a novel perspective on gender differences in labour market outcomes,” said Leonie Gerhards, the paper's lead author.

The researchers suggested it could explain part of the gender pay gap.

“Aggregated over all rounds of both games and all teams, women earn on average 4.36% less than men in our experiment,” wrote the authors.

“In same-sex teams, the gender pay gap is even larger and amounts to 7.75% lower earnings for women on average.”

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