Nice guys do finish last, according to a series of studies that show agreeable men earn significantly less and have less opportunity for advancement than disagreeable men. Agreeable women aren’t faced with the same backlash, supporting the assumption that agreeable men are being punished for not living up to their stereotypical gender roles.
While it is well documented that women earn less than men, a series of three studies examined whether agreeableness had an impact on this wage inequality — that is, whether men and women being agreeable or disagreeable changed the equation. Agreeableness incorporates attributes such as being trusting, altruistic, compliant, modest and tender-minded. Disagreeableness refers to being assertive in situations of disagreement.
All three studies, based on surveys and interviews with nearly 4,000 working men and women, showed consistently that disagreeable men were paid significantly more than agreeable men. The results of the first study, for example, showed that men rated high on agreeableness earned on average $31,259, while men rated low on agreeableness earned $42,113. For disagreeable women, there was no comparable jump in earnings. In the same study, for example, wages for disagreeable women increased from $30,431 to $32,283.
As a result, disagreeableness exacerbates the gender wage gap: while agreeable men earn more than agreeable women, disagreeable men earn twice as much as disagreeable women. In addition, the study found that salaries for disagreeable men increased at a much faster rate than salaries for agreeable men.
In the same way that agreeableness had a negative impact on wages, a fourth study showed that agreeableness had a negative impact on career advancement. Disagreeable men and women, the study showed, were much more likely to be recommended for advancement. Again, as with wages, this negative impact was much more pronounced for men than women.
While agreeableness is considered a positive attribute, the fact is that employers are rewarding disagreeableness instead, especially for men. Rather than being encouraged and rewarded, agreeable men are often viewed as “deviants” in the workplace because they are not living up to assumed gender roles.
Companies should examine their compensation decisions and processes to ensure that they are not unwittingly encouraging negative and detrimental behaviour. This reassessment of compensation will not overcome the gender wage gap, but will at least reward the employees, both men and women, who are cooperative, helpful and liked by others in the workplace.
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