Men have a competitive advantage in the workplace. Here’s why


More men than women play sports competitively. Does this give them a competitive advantage in the workplace? New research has some surprising answers.

The low level of participation among women at senior levels in Australian business remains a depressingly familiar statistic, with females making up only 17 per cent of CEOs.

But according to some new research, perhaps part of the problem arises from an unexpected area – the different ways that men and women approach sport.

“During the course of my work, I’ve interviewed high-performing graduates and, looking at their life experiences, often sport plays a big part,” says Jodie Skellern, PhD candidate at Macquarie University and former executive at AMP for 21 years.

Skellern wondered how much sport gave a competitive advantage when it comes to career progression. Her interest was piqued by a senate inquiry in the early 2000s, which looked at women’s participation in sport and showed that men participate in organised and competitive sport far more than women, with more women choosing to play sport for health and social benefits.

Skellern shone a light on one of Australia’s largest corporate law firms to see how participation in competitive and organised sport correlates with success in the workplace. She found that in myriad ways, the cultural capital of male sport, including the importance of competitiveness, resilience and teamwork, all translate very easily into a competitive advantage for men that leads to high achievement in the workplace.

Crucially, Skellern found that the practice of actively seeking out and accepting feedback on performance from their (often male) supervisors – as one might with a sports coach – was much more prevalent among men than women.

The difference even emerges in CVs. “Men typically report sporting activity under skills and achievements, while women are more likely to describe sport as a hobby,” she says.

“A human resources director told me that even if a male has played division four sport, it plays a bigger role in his life and he’ll elevate this to a higher level. Women, though, often don’t volunteer sport [as an achievement] unless they’ve played at the top level.”

Skellern points out that it’s not sport per se (and it doesn’t seem to matter which sport) that’s important, but the structure and organisation around the sport where players are consciously developed via a system of coaching.

While the law firm of Skellern’s study might not be typical of workplaces in general, it is certainly not unique, with investment banking, accountancy, and management consultancy all highly hierarchical and consciously competitive. Importantly, workplaces such as these might become more typical in the future.

“As we move towards a knowledge economy, where technical skills are gender neutral, we need to be able to make more visible the cultural capital, because that’s what differentiates us.”

Lean in?

Skellern is keen to point out that none of her findings should be taken to suggest that women should “play more sport like men,” or even play more sport at all – but rather that companies need to become more aware of the unconscious biases involved in selecting one person for advancement over another.

“Instead of telling women to ‘lean in’, there needs to be an improvement in decision-making processes,” she says. “If firms are serious about diversity, they need to look harder for high talent that’s not currently visible. Women are competitive, resilient, and good team players – they just practise these skills differently to men.”

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refiloe
refiloe
3 years ago

men are mostly hired without necessary qualifications than women

More on HRM

Men have a competitive advantage in the workplace. Here’s why


More men than women play sports competitively. Does this give them a competitive advantage in the workplace? New research has some surprising answers.

The low level of participation among women at senior levels in Australian business remains a depressingly familiar statistic, with females making up only 17 per cent of CEOs.

But according to some new research, perhaps part of the problem arises from an unexpected area – the different ways that men and women approach sport.

“During the course of my work, I’ve interviewed high-performing graduates and, looking at their life experiences, often sport plays a big part,” says Jodie Skellern, PhD candidate at Macquarie University and former executive at AMP for 21 years.

Skellern wondered how much sport gave a competitive advantage when it comes to career progression. Her interest was piqued by a senate inquiry in the early 2000s, which looked at women’s participation in sport and showed that men participate in organised and competitive sport far more than women, with more women choosing to play sport for health and social benefits.

Skellern shone a light on one of Australia’s largest corporate law firms to see how participation in competitive and organised sport correlates with success in the workplace. She found that in myriad ways, the cultural capital of male sport, including the importance of competitiveness, resilience and teamwork, all translate very easily into a competitive advantage for men that leads to high achievement in the workplace.

Crucially, Skellern found that the practice of actively seeking out and accepting feedback on performance from their (often male) supervisors – as one might with a sports coach – was much more prevalent among men than women.

The difference even emerges in CVs. “Men typically report sporting activity under skills and achievements, while women are more likely to describe sport as a hobby,” she says.

“A human resources director told me that even if a male has played division four sport, it plays a bigger role in his life and he’ll elevate this to a higher level. Women, though, often don’t volunteer sport [as an achievement] unless they’ve played at the top level.”

Skellern points out that it’s not sport per se (and it doesn’t seem to matter which sport) that’s important, but the structure and organisation around the sport where players are consciously developed via a system of coaching.

While the law firm of Skellern’s study might not be typical of workplaces in general, it is certainly not unique, with investment banking, accountancy, and management consultancy all highly hierarchical and consciously competitive. Importantly, workplaces such as these might become more typical in the future.

“As we move towards a knowledge economy, where technical skills are gender neutral, we need to be able to make more visible the cultural capital, because that’s what differentiates us.”

Lean in?

Skellern is keen to point out that none of her findings should be taken to suggest that women should “play more sport like men,” or even play more sport at all – but rather that companies need to become more aware of the unconscious biases involved in selecting one person for advancement over another.

“Instead of telling women to ‘lean in’, there needs to be an improvement in decision-making processes,” she says. “If firms are serious about diversity, they need to look harder for high talent that’s not currently visible. Women are competitive, resilient, and good team players – they just practise these skills differently to men.”

guest
2 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
refiloe
refiloe
3 years ago

men are mostly hired without necessary qualifications than women

More on HRM