Small decisions can have a big impact on gender equality

HOW SMALL DECISIONS CAN HAVE A BIG IMPACT ON HIGH ACHIEVING WOMEN.

I was listening to a very interesting podcast by Pamela Stone, a US sociology professor, who has studied the gender differences of 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates (mostly MBA’s). The conclusions debunk some myths (at least within this group), such as women opting out or scaling back work when they have children. In fact women leaving the MBA programme wanted similar levels of success as men, however it was in the outcomes where the differences occur.

In passing, Pamela mentioned that small decisions can reduce women’s financial bargaining power with their partners and can have long term consequences that favour men’s careers over women’s. We’ve heard of the chaos theory concept that a butterfly wing flap can cause a hurricane thousands of miles away, so I was wondering if indeed small decisions can have big impacts on careers.

When playing in poker tournaments I see the cumulative result of small decisions. Each player starts equal with the same number of chips but some simply play too many hands or just play badly. Over time this reduces their relative power and ultimately they get knocked out early by people with more chips (power).

DO MEN AND WOMEN MAKE DIFFERENT SMALL DECISIONS THAT HAVE A LONG TERM IMPACT?

I think perhaps they do. Take childcare for example, who in the relationship is called by the school when there is a problem? Who takes your child to the doctors or goes home (on time!) to spend time with your children? Who decides not to socialise or go on “optional” week-end events to spend more time with their family?

Each of these decisions, while important for the family, can have an impact on a career. Missing out on the optional opportunities to build stronger relationships with your colleagues or being considered committed to your company or a project you are working on, could have a long term effect.

“If you want promotion, do every extracurricular task that you can. Don’t worry about the quality of the work, as it is irrelevant.” (Sunday Times, 15/2/15).

I saw this quote recently from an employee at UK banking group Lloyds Bank which would seem to confirm this effect. The sad thing is that you don’t even have to be good; you just need to be there.

And once the small differences begin to create a difference in perception at work and then remuneration between a woman and her partner, the financial imperative begins to prioritize the partner’s career over the woman’s.

SO IF FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES ARE NOT SHARED EQUALLY THEN UNEQUAL CONSEQUENCES WILL RESULT.

What is the conclusion from this? It isn’t very romantic but if a relationship was a poker game then the optimal approach is to make sure that before you have children you establish the rules of childcare with your partner.

To succeed you have to accept failure

YOU CAN ONLY WIN IF YOU LEARN TO ACCEPT FAILURE.

I have just finished watching the Australian Tennis Open final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. One thing that occurred to me during the match was the similarity between failure in sports competition, failure in business and losing in poker.

Winning is easy to cope with (although as I saw at the poker tables last night this can lead to a fatal over-confidence), but what about failure? We all hate it right? It makes us angry and sometimes affects us long after the event.

IT’S ALL ABOUT PERCENTAGES

In most sporting fields, including golf, tennis and Formula 1, we often hear commentators and players speaking of playing a percentage game. So assuming a good tennis shot percentage is around 85% it follows that 15% of the time we will not be successful. In Formula 1 they talk about driving at 95% and in poker a 60% chance of winning a hand is almost always the right percentage play. However in poker that means we lose 40% of the time and fate being capricious and cruel, sometimes that 40% comes all at once and we lose consecutive hands where we had a statistical advantage.

Business decisions are equally at risk of failure. No business decision has a 100% guarantee. Apple’s move into mobile technology looks brilliant now, but at the time there was no promise of success. Tesco supermarket’s move into the US market might have been a very well thought out strategy but it failed. So businesses equally make percentage plays.

WE NEVER FORGET A FAILURE

What happens when we fail? We remember it well and usually vividly because they upset and disrupt our equilibrium. We cannot get out of our minds the ‘what-if’s’and the ‘if-only’s’. When we win we celebrate how smart and talented we are and then promptly forget the success.

In poker when a player gets angry and upset losing a hand where they were a statistical favorite, we say they go on tilt. Tilt can last a few minutes, days or even weeks and it can adversely impact good decision making. Tilt also happens to executives and managers as well as businesses in general.

WHAT DOES THIS TELLS US?

We are surrounded by failure. Operating in any situation where the result is not guaranteed means we must be prepared to handle failure when, and not if, it arrives. What has this got to do with Andy Murray losing? Well I am not sure why he collapsed when he was 2-love up in the 3rd set. Perhaps one of his percentage shots missed and he just was unable to let it go. One thing is certain, Andy will need to let this relative (he got to the final after all) failure go, if he is to win another grand slam.

If you are interested in learning more about handling failure and as a by-product become happier and healthier in your work, then get in touch today.