Does being nice pay off for women?

Not really – especially for women – according to some research by Guido Heineck that was cited in the Daily Telegraph recently.

None of this is a surprise to me due to a long participation in business and, in particular, male dominated areas such as finance and IT.

Some of the research merely confirmed personal experience, for example “…results suggest that only females’ earnings are positively affected by greater preferences for challenge rather than affiliation.” (Heineck, 2007, p.4) This translates as ‘women who do not value group membership as much as others earn more’.

Nice and overly polite people (read ‘passive’) don’t often get a chance to take on high profile projects. Instead the people who are obviously willing to take on a challenge get them. And, greater rewards are often attached to more risky projects or endeavours. That’s not to say those women who like a challenge are not perfectly nice and polite people.

I’ve noticed that women on my teams over the years haven’t always achieved the kind of roles they’d like. Well-qualified women often do not push themselves forward, while less qualified men are willing to give it a shot. This particular issue is one that I have counseled many younger women about. Putting up your hand for a project or opportunity is often the only way to get them. Rarely are they offered without some kind of track record.  Women with a high need for affiliation can rarely push themselves forward past that need.

Interestingly some female friends were irate at the conclusions drawn in the Telegraph article.  They felt that this kind of discourse had a place in the past.  But I just look at results.  People who achieve tend to have a willingness to prioritise achievement over affiliation. It seems to come down a question of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.

The full paper, dating from 2007, is available here (NB: opens a pdf in a new window).

Author: Kate Carruthers

Kate Carruthers is Chief Data & Insights Officer for UNSW Sydney, and is also an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the School of Computer Science & Engineering. She is certified in information security and is currently undertaking postgraduate studies terrorism and security. Kate has extensive experience in senior roles in ICT, marketing, data and digital; and is a member of the NSW Government’s Data Analytics Centre Advisory Board. Kate is currently working at the intersection of data analytics, AI, ML, privacy, cyber security, and data protection.