High-ranked women less generous than men when sharing a reward with their collaborators

High status men are more willing to reward their collaborators than are high status women, according to new research.

The study, published in PLOS One, found that high-ranked men were more generous when sharing a reward with people they worked with.

“From early in childhood, girls form relationships with same-sex peers of equal status more than boys do, whereas boys are more willing to cooperate with same-sex peers of differing status levels. This occurs both in language use and cooperative activities,” explained study authors Joyce Benenson and Henry Markovits, of Emmanuel College and the Université du Québec à Montréal, respectively.

“In our Current Biology (2014) article, we tested this with adults in 50 Psychology departments in the US and Canada. Again, we found that male full professors were more likely than female full professors to cooperate with assistant professors of the same sex.

“Female full professors however were just as likely as male full professors to cooperate with same-sex full professors,” the researchers told PsyPost. “We wondered, however, whether this was due to institutional pressures or some kind of socialization. Therefore, we wanted to replicate these more naturalistic findings with a controlled standardized test.”

“There have been a number of references to the ‘Queen Bee’ phenomenon, but no test of sex differences. And men are well known to be tyrannical bosses and, of course, to take advantage of and discriminate against women. The obvious question then is to what extent can newcomer females can depend on senior females to help them advance in a field.”

In three studies of 187 male and 188 female participants, the researchers found that high status men were more invested in a cooperative partner than high status women.

In the first study, the participants were told they were either the most or least influential person in a group. They were then asked how much of a hypothetical reward they would share with a cooperative partner of varying competence.

The second and third studies replaced the hypothetical reward with a small monetary reward. The participants were told they were the leader of the group and had to allocate the rewards they earned to their partners. In all of the experiments, the participants’ partners were of the same sex.

Across all studies, high status men shared more rewards with their partners, while high status women tended to to retain a larger share for themselves.

“Women need to learn to be more generous with lower-ranked females,” Benenson and Markovits said. “These young people in our study who were not influenced by a particular institutional culture nevertheless exhibited the same sex-differentiated patterns that have been found before. This suggests that female newcomers are at a disadvantage if they rely on higher-ranked females to get ahead compared to male newcomers.”

“This is the first study of which we are aware that experimentally demonstrates that higher-ranked females are less likely than higher-ranked same-sex peers to cooperate with lower-ranked same-sex peers.”

But the study does have some limitations.

“Our study is very limited in that the setting is completely experimental and artificial and no other same-sex peer was present,” the researchers explained. “More research in real settings needs to be conducted. If the results are replicated, it behooves human resources professionals to make female leaders and other high-ranked female professionals more aware of this bias.”

The findings also suggest that men have a natural inclination to strengthen group bonds, something which could help them succeed in hierarchical organizations.

“We really believe that we need females to work together to contribute their unique perspectives to the world,” Benenson and Markovits told PsyPost. “This requires more high status females in important positions and more collaboration among females. Many of the world’s problems today are being ignored and males’ interests in warfare, making large sums of money, playing politics are overshadowing females’ greater interests in the health of individuals and the environment.”

The study, “High status males invest more than high status females in lower status same-sex collaborators“, was also co-authored by Evelyne Gauthier and Émilie Gagnon-St-Pierre.