Women may be struggling to climb career ladder because of their beliefs about competition

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Recent research by UCL School of Management and London Business School has revealed that women may be less likely than men to go for opportunities in competitive workplaces, because they don’t see as much of an upside to competition as men do.

On average, women are less competitive than men, which can be explained by factors such as the different evolutionary and social pressures men and women experience. Dr. Sun Young Lee and Dr. Selin Kesebir have extended our current understanding of this gender difference by revealing that beliefs and attitudes towards competition may vary between genders.

They conducted a set of studies with a total of 2,331 participants, and through this research they found that women attribute less positive outcomes to competition than men do. They also found that women are less likely to believe that competition improves performance and leads to creative problem solving. People who hold less positive beliefs about competition, who are disproportionally women, also describe themselves as less competitive and, importantly, are less willing to compete when they have the option.

Such findings suggest that women who are perfectly qualified may be opting out of important career opportunities, such as seeking coveted promotions or running for office, because they do not believe that there will be a positive outcome. This attitude could ultimately affect their performance should they find themselves competing, simply because expectations have the power to shape outcomes.

Women’s belief-driven reluctance to compete can be costly not only for themselves but also for their organisations and society at large. Based on their research, Dr. Lee and Dr. Kesebir offer a way to make women less likely to shy away from competition:

“Many beliefs are known to be more malleable than we think. Women may develop a more balanced view of competition and become more aware of competition’s potentially positive outcomes, if we create more opportunities for them to experience healthy competition from early on in their life.”

The findings were published in one of the prestigious academic journals, Motivation and Emotion.

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