This just in – a study of gender and agreeability shows that mean men make the most money. But being disagreeable does not help a woman’s earnings; nice women make just slightly less than mean women. Men make more than both groups.
The authors of the study confess that they are somewhat perplexed by the findings. With corporations and management studies touting the benefits of teamwork, why should nicer people not be valued more? They point out, though, that agreeable people are motivated by building good social relationships. Altriustic behavior does not help when it’s time to look out for number one. The disagreeable employees are better able to negotiate well for themselves, “possibly stemming from their high sense of psychological entitlement and lower level of willingness to compromise their self-interests.” (Study citations omitted) But the gap is not solely due to the efforts of the disagreeable to advance their own interests. They are also perceived differently; the psychological literature shows that people who are angry, or highly critical of others, are rated as more competent.
So, why does this work for men and not for women? The reason is sex stereotyping. As the authors explain, “Men are expected to be high in agency and low in communion, while the opposite is expected of women. Both men and women who act in ways that are contrary to expected behaviors in certain contexts may encounter backlash when they do not conform to stereotyped expectations. Backlash refers to social and economic sanctions for counterstereotypical behavior. Counterstereotypical behavior often results in less favorable personnel decisions such as decreased recognition, compromised opportunities for advancement and, at worst, sabotage directed against ‘deviants.’” (Again, study citations omitted)
The study’s authors conclude: “Given the positive contributions made by agreeable people, demonstrated in prior research, it seems that the income penalty for agreeableness is out of proportion with its performance effects. Rather, for men and for women, the effects may be due more to expectations for behavior appropriate to one’s gender. This research raises important questions about the standards according to which people are evaluated and sheds further light on the issue of wage inequalities. In particular, it serves as a caveat to popular sources of career advice that either exhort people to be nice—or not. Closing the gender gap seems to hinge less on changing women’s behavior than it does on changing the minds of decision makers.”