Unlike men, women avoid taking high-stakes risks — even when sponsored
- Women who participated in a sponsorship program largely avoided taking high-stakes risks, unlike their male counterparts, Quartz reports. While praising workplace sponsorship programs in general, Katie Coffman, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of the new study, and her mother, Nancy R. Baldiga, an economics and accounting professor at the College of the Holy Cross, claim that these programs could widen the gender gap if improperly structured.
- Coffman and Baldiga ran an experiment in which 176 men and 178 women could choose between a guaranteed payment of 50 cents for each mathematical problem they solved or taking a chance on earning more money per problem solved, but risking earning nothing if they were not in the top 25% of solvers. The results showed that women took the guaranteed payment over the high-stakes risk. Men were more likely to take the risk.
- In the second part of the experiment, the participants were told they had a sponsor before the same problem-solving exercise began. Even men who who took the high-stakes risk, but scored poorly, gained confidence from having had a sponsor. However, having a sponsor didn't make women more confident about taking a risk. Coffman and Baldiga concluded that a sponsorship program doesn't necessarily give women parity with men.
Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives, told HR Dive in a November interview that sponsorship programs tap successful women for more advanced positions or leadership roles, whereas mentorship programs are for women on the rise who need advice and direction from a more experienced, often higher-level person. For those programs to work, however, it's clear that employers will need to implement them thoughtfully, and with concern for the different approaches women may take to their work.
Women have been shown to take less risk then men in a number of situations, such as investing money for retirement or asking for a raise. And sometimes when they take a risk, the outcomes aren't in their favor due to other ingrained issues stacked against them.
Spence, however, warned against creating sponsorship programs specifically for women, stating that such programs could send the wrong message to the organization as a whole. As with any employee program, employers may want to ensure they have buy-in from leadership and interest from the employee body as a whole, which can only be known if solid feedback channels are in place.