Chessboard or boardroom, under-representation affects women’s performance

Chessboard or boardroom, under-representation affects women’s performance

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More studies are looking at the way women and men respond to competition and how this correlates to the gender pay gap and lack of representation of women in senior positions. 

A recent paper which analysed gender differences in performance in highly competitive male-dominated environments, in this case, Chess, has suggested that it may not be competition itself that affects women, but rather the gender of their opponent. 

Maria Cubel, who co-authored the paper, Gender, Competition and Performance: Evidence from Real Tournaments said: “Expert chess resembles highly competitive professions in that it requires determination, tenacity and lots of hours of practice.

“Women who are professional chess players, just like women in many competitive occupations, have selected themselves into a highly demanding male-dominated environment.

“Given this selection, one would expect women not to be affected by the gender of the person they are competing against – but they are.”

Evidence indicated that women are less likely to win compared with men of the same ability, and that this is driven by women making more errors specifically when playing against men.

Cubel explains that when control factors for players’ characteristics were taken into account, the average quality of play of woman versus woman games and man versus man games are identical. “So, it is not that women dislike competition or are just worse at competing; the problem appears when they compete with men,” she said.

Another reason for the findings has been linked to a theory of stereotype threat. This argues that when a group suffers from a negative stereotype, the anxiety experienced trying to avoid that stereotype, or just being aware of it, increases the probability of confirming the stereotype.

Expert chess is a strongly male-stereotyped environment where women represent 11 per cent of players in international mixed gender tournaments and only two per cent of grandmasters are women. Chinese player Hou Yifan is the only woman among the world’s best 100 players.

The authors state that while there is no compelling evidence of men’s innate superiority in chess, many express prejudiced views that the game is not for women. Nigel Short an English grandmaster said in 2015: “Girls just don’t have the brains to play chess”. 

“There is a persistent and non-negligible performance gap between men and women,” Cubel writes. “On average, women have 15 per cent lower Elo points than men. As a consequence (but also as a cause) of this under-representation and underperformance, stereotypes against women are widespread in the chess world.

These results suggest that the gender composition of competitions affects the behaviour of both men and women in ways that are detrimental to the performance of women.

Read the full article on VoxEU

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