Are You Tough Enough? Why Competitive Winning Matters To Women Leaders

With The Rio2016 Olympics as a backdrop, we are reminded that women are as competitive as men. But is wanting to win cool?As humans, we care a lot about winning. As women leaders and competitors in the workplace, we may care a whole lot more.The literal finger-wagging battle signifying who is No. 1 in the Rio 2016 Olympics swimming competitions between USA gold medalist Lilly King and Russian silver medalist Yulia Efimova has been dramatic and perhaps non-diplomatic. King turned her win into a platform against doping in competition and touted hers as a clean victory. She later apologized.Whether we are cheering Olympic gold winners Simon Biles or Simone Manuel, the focus on being at the very top also points to the importance of being seen as a winner in all arenas. It spotlights the stigma of women leaders as fierce competitors and illuminates the pay gap women athletes suffer—even when competing at the highest international level. It is a pay gap that exists in nearly every corner of industry and business for women, and one that Take The Lead has a mission to eliminate by 2025.“More than 40 years after Title IX greatly expanded the opportunities for female athletes, the gender pay gap in sports is in the public consciousness like never before,” writes Mary Pilon in Fortune. “A yawning pay gap led the massively popular U.S. Women’s soccer team to file a gender discrimination lawsuit, the pay differential between the WNBA and NBA remains stark, and women lag behind in both collegiate coaching and officiating.”Yes, we have all seen the videos and the photos of the U.S. women’s soccer team, swimming team, plus the gymnasts, basketball players, beach volleyball players—all relishing the moment of the win with elation and exuberance.In business, is winning the same for women?What women leaders do not want the recognition, the top award for her work, the trip to a resort for being the top sales person on the team? Not to mention the bonus, the affirmation, the higher job title, being called the best at what you do.But do women want to win as badly as is the perception that men do?The answer is yes.[bctt tweet=“Do women want to win as badly as is the perception that men do? Yes.” username=“takeleadwomen”]In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, researchers from School of Business, University of Western Australia, Australia and the Department of Economics and Finance, Niagara University in New York found that both men and women compete at the same levels and want to win.The researchers analyzed “potential gender differences in competitive environments using a sample of over 100,000 professional tennis matches.” Using as evidence the two distinct moves of hot-hand and clutch-player effects (or extremely aggressive moves on the court), they found “virtually no gender differences in either effect.”The parallel comparison of sports and business is not accidental, nor can we dismiss the presence of sports metaphors used to acknowledge “winning” in business. New research shows that the competitiveness shown in sports is related to competitiveness shown in business, and there is a difference there for women.A 2016 study published in the Journal of Business Research  concludes “no single condition but combinations of characteristics explain preferences for competition.” But, “results show that experience in competitive sports relates to a higher self-confidence and increases the willingness to enter in competitive systems. Interestingly, one of the causal paths leading to enter competition is being a risk-averse woman with experience in competitive sports. These results provide insights to guide policy interventions to reduce the gender gap in preferences for competition and, therefore, to rise the percentage of women in top-level positions.”Language about winning and losing reinforces competitionAmy Jadesimi writes in Forbes that women competing as entrepreneurs in a global market have distinct disadvantages that may prevent them from “winning.””Research conducted by Sarah Thebaud at Princeton University, looked more closely into the ecosystem that affects entrepreneurs. She conducted three experimental studies in the U.K. and the U.S. in which participants were asked to evaluate the profiles of two entrepreneurs and to make investment decisions for each.“The studies manipulated the gender of the entrepreneur and the innovativeness of the new organization. The main finding was consistent — gender status beliefs, particularly around competence, generally disadvantaged women entrepreneurs. To be seen as competent and worthy of funding, women have to out-perform and to be exceptionally innovative; whereas men can secure backing with far less,” Jadesimi writes.Apparently that is not a deterrent for all women leaders who intend to win as innovators with a start-up, according to the recently released 2016 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. Or maybe more women are trying that much harder.“The rate of women entrepreneurs saw the biggest increase in almost 20 years—increasing from 0.22 percent to 0.26 percent (meaning 260 out of every 100,000 females become an entrepreneur each month). The gender gap is still fairly large though as men make up 59.4 percent of all new entrepreneurs,” writes Mark Marich for Kauffman. Other key findings, according to the study:

  • Female new entrepreneurs have a higher likelihood of being opportunity entrepreneurs than do their male counterparts, with 84.6 percent of the new female entrepreneurs in the 2016 Index not coming from unemployment, compared to 78 percent for males.
  • Immigrant entrepreneurs now account for 27.5 percent of all new entrepreneurs in the United States, up from just 13.3 percent in the 1997 Index.
  • New entrepreneurs in the United States are becoming increasingly diverse, with 40 percent of new entrepreneurs being comprised of African American, Latino, Asian, or other non-white entrepreneurs in the 2016 Index.

“’The large increase in female entrepreneurs was a major driver in the rising startup activity levels,’” said Robert Fairlie, professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and one of the study’s authors. ‘Further, more people are pursuing entrepreneurship as an opportunity, rather than out of necessity; a big change from the levels of necessity entrepreneurship we saw during and after the Great Recession.,” Marich writes.In a new Bank of America study of women small business owners released last week, researchers found that 79 percent of the women small business owners believed that the glass ceiling exists for women and minorities.  But the majority, or 54 percent of the women business owners, said they did nore limited by the glass ceiling. However, 46 percent of the women surveyed reported they did feel limited.Being a small business owner made 54 percent of the women feel successful, and 49 percent feel powerful. Smaller percentages of women reported they felt stressed or overwhelmed.When the heat of the competition is over, after a win—or a loss- women find it harder to cooperate with the women who were their competitors, according to a new Harvard University study.According to a story on The Health Site,  researchers at Harvard University reported men are friendlier post-conflict or competition, while woman have a harder time.The results belied popular notions of gendered competitiveness.“Women were found to have a harder time when they have to compete with other women. ‘Most people think of females as being less competitive, or more cooperative, so you might expect there would be more reconciliation between females,’ said Joyce Benenson, associate professor at Harvard. However, the findings showed that when two females compete in the workplace, they feel much more damaged afterward.”Just as the Olympics for years touted the competitions as all about “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” you do know that winning may not be everything, but competing as a women leaders matters a lot.[bctt tweet=“Winning may not be everything, but competing as a women leaders matters a lot.” username=“takeleadwomen”]According to Den Henretta,  Senior Advisor at SSA & Companyin an interview with Laura Dunn in Huffington Post: “Be on the lookout for ideas that could give you advantage but also for competitive moves that could make your business model obsolete.”Henretta adds, “Winning in a fast-moving marketplace requires commitment to ongoing, fast-cycle learning and courage to change as marketplace or competitive moves dictate.”That’s a win-win.