Rivalry Flips the Script: Gender Effects in Network Recall and Activation
(with Elisa Operti and Shemuel Y. Lampronti)
Studies show that women are better than men at cognitively representing social networks and that these abilities facilitate career advancement. But why are then women still trailing men on career outcomes based on these abilities? We propose as a moderating factor the competitive rivalry that defines the race for career success. Rivalry is inter-personal competition, characterised by higher psychological stakes. Connecting literatures on rivalry, networks and gender, we argue that rivalry erodes women’s advantage at recalling and activating networks. Supporting evidence is obtained from an experimental study of network recall and a field study of network-related performance by neighbourhood captains in the Palio di Siena (1930-2010). By reducing network complexity and prioritizing aggressiveness, focus and blocking activities, rivalry flips the script, weakening female performance. Rather than altering the composition of their social networks, efforts at improving women’s returns to networking should be targeted at removing structural obstacles to its fulfillment.