Collaboration and competition in business

Collaboration and competition in business

Research has shown that in general, boys are more interested in competitive games and girls are more interested in cooperative games ([1] Maccoby, 1998). Studies show that young boys spend 65 percent of their free play in competitive games and young girls only 35 per cent ([2] Knickmeyer, 2005). Meanwhile studies show that girls are 20 times more likely to engage in turn-taking behaviours than boys.

In a study of boys and girls of nursery school age in a social group, the boys had unanimous agreement about the ranking of all the boys in the group by the end of the second play session. These rankings stayed stable for the full 6-month period of the study. The girls, on the other hand, showed some social dominance but rankings were much more fluid.

testosterone hormone

Testosterone drives competition

Testosterone (T), the macho king of the hormones, promotes dominant and competitive behaviour, fuelling a focus on the importance of hierarchy and protecting one’s territory ([3] Tremblay et al, 1998). The male brain and body produce much more testosterone than in a female. Women have less T, and the T they do have, has less of a kick.

Even a low T man is likely to care more about his place in the pecking order than the average woman. Or at least he may care more about being further from the bottom of the ranking than a woman, for whom ranking may not matter at all. This neurobiological fact has a huge impact on workplace culture. Let’s take an even closer neuroscientific look.

Because of their significantly higher T levels, men tend to figure out their place in the order of things at work through competition. Research has shown that no matter how hard we try to influence (or not) our children, little girls tend to play house and care for dollies. While little boys tend to race about fighting each other, or imaginary enemies, with whatever objects they are given (a plastic dinosaur makes a great gun, as I discovered with my sons).

oxytocin hormone

Oxytocin drives collaboration

Women are more likely to seek collaboration than most men. Why is this?

On average, women produce more oxytocin than men. Oxytocin is the bonding hormone and promotes collaborative behaviour – as illustrated in the research into girls in the playground. Girls’ language patterns reflect this too. Young girls use collaborative language more often than young boys do.

It has been shown that Estrogen accentuates the effects of Oxytocin ([4] Lischke et al. 2012) whilst testosterone appears to suppress it ([5] Okabe et al. 2013). So a hormone that plays an important role in both males and females can be accentuated or suppressed by their individual body chemistry in general and at specific times. It also implies that excesses of testosterone are not naturally compatible with excessive empathetic or collaborative tendencies.

Businesses need to recognise the benefits of both to succeed

With lower and less potent T levels, women generally care less about their place in the pecking order at work. Women activate and use their power in the organisational system, but they do it through relationships to a far greater extent than men (Baron-Cohen et al, 2003; Hoffman, 1977; Davis, 1994; Eisenberg et al, 1983). When we are being our self, we feel as if we are functioning at our best. Being the best woman you can be is a great confidence booster, just as it is for a man to be the best man he can be.

Confidence goes down when doing your best on your own gendered terms gets serially invalidated. Whether you are a man or a woman. But for a woman in a male world, corporate blindness of the way she exercises her power is so often endemic. If we want to get the best out of #allthebrains in the business, this has to change.

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[1] The Two Sexes, Growing up apart, coming together – Maccoby, 1998
Maccoby, E. E. (1998). Family and public policy.The two sexes: Growing up apart, coming together. Belknap Press/Harvard University Press.

[2] Sex differences in the brain: implications for explaining autism – Knickmeyer 2005
Baron-Cohen S, Knickmeyer RC, Belmonte MK (2005). Sex differences in the brain: implications for explaining autism. Science 310: 819-823. Science (New York, N.Y.). 310. 819-23. 10.1126/science.1115455

[3] Testosterone, Physical Aggression, Dominance, and Physical Development in Early Adolescence – Tremblay et al. 1998
Tremblay, R. E., Schaal, B., Boulerice, B., Arseneault, L., Soussignan, R. G., Paquette, D., & Laurent, D. (1998). Testosterone, Physical Aggression, Dominance, and Physical Development in Early Adolescence. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 22(4), 753–777.

[4] Lischke et al. 2012
Lischke A, Gamer M, Berger C, Grossmann A, Hauenstein K, Heinrichs M, Herpertz SC, Domes G (September 2012). “Oxytocin increases amygdala reactivity to threatening scenes in females”. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 37 (9): 1431–38. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.01.011. PMID 22365820. S2CID 7981815.

[5] Okabe et al. 2013
Okabe S, Kitano K, Nagasawa M, Mogi K, Kikusui T (June 2013). “Testosterone inhibits facilitating effects of parenting experience on parental behavior and the oxytocin neural system in mice”. Physiology & Behavior. 118: 159–64. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.05.017. PMID 23685236. S2CID 46790892.

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