Hens Lose at Chicken

An article in a recent issue of the American Economic Review has a big title:
Gender Differences in Accepting and Receiving Requests for Tasks with Low Promotability.

In our research we find that, relative to men, women are more likely to volunteer,
more likely to be asked to volunteer, and more likely to accept direct requests to
volunteer (p. 744).

My four-word version of the conclusion:

Hens Lose at Chicken.

Linda Babcock and her co-authors build a fascinating argument about why women spend more time doing thankless tasks. There are two parts to this unfortunate equilibrium. First, the authors show that women are more likely than men to accept requests for duties that benefit the group but do not benefit themselves. After reading that, the female reader might conclude, “we have no one to blame but ourselves.”

But the second part is where the story gets really interesting. Why do women take on the thankless tasks? Because male colleagues expect us to.

Remember that this is not just me ranting about this from my own experience. I’m summarizing the conclusions from careful work published in a top economics journal, that frames the questions in the context of observed workplace data and then makes causal arguments using controlled experiments.

To all: read the article. Don’t let the long title or the journal fool you; it’s very accessible.

To women: work harder on your patience in letting others take on the housework of the workplace (and maybe the real housework, too).

To men who care about gender equity in the workplace: be aware of your natural prowess at the workplace game of chicken. Stepping up to do the grunt work is a concrete step you can take to promote equity.

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