University of Auckland research discovers gender difference in competitive money-earning situations

Women tend to shy away from commission jobs because they perform worse than men in competitive pay situations, new research shows.

More men are likely to venture into industries such as real estate, car sales and retail where rewards for sales are a large part of the pay package.

In a year-long study by Professor Ananish Chaudhuri of Auckland University, about 400 of the university's students were given mathematical problems to solve online.

They were put in three groups, with each having different rewards at the end.


In one scheme, participants were told they would receive a flat salary of $20 for one hour's work. Another group were given $1 per question answered but had money subtracted for errors.

And in the last group, people were paired and told that for each question, the person who made the smaller error for a question would get $1 while the other person would get nothing.

They were matched via the computer with another person in the room, but they did not know the other person's gender.

Professor Chaudhuri said there was no gender differences in performance when people were paid a flat salary, but the average number of errors made by female students was higher in the other two schemes.

He added that women might do worse because of higher anxiety levels.

"One thing we found - and it is supported by others - is that women tend to perform worse in the more competitive situation where you win or lose.

"This suggests - assuming we are right in the first place - that fewer women will go into careers like car salesmen and real estate agents. On average you would expect to see more male car salesmen or more male real estate agents.

"But you do see a lot of female real estate agents. They may not like the fact that their compensation depends so heavily on commissions but they find the flexible working hours and the ability to work from home attractive.


"This is also why if you look within real estate companies you will most likely find that there are more women in the rental property management side of the business where the salaries are more or less guaranteed than the house selling side of it.

"On the other hand, you will find few male rental property managers but more male real estate agents."

But mother and daughter real estate duo Lesley and Ruth Hawes believe women do well in the profession as they can relate to the client.

"Real estate is a different world again from many other sales professions," Ruth Hawes said.

"The enormity of the asset and emotional factors when it comes to selling your home - as opposed to shoes, jewellery or even most cars - set it apart.

"Trust, excellent communication, great interpersonal skills and an ability to support/be in control - without being threatening - are huge elements to being successful in real estate.


"Woman seem to be able to establish this trust and rapport very easily, which is a big advantage."

Ruth Hawes said money was low on the list of priorities for women but they were competitive when it came to ranking high within their industry.

Last year was the first time in 10 years that a man was named Ray White's salesperson of the year. Ruth and Lesley won the gong for 2010 and Lesley held the position from 2004 to 2008. Six women were currently among the company's top 10 sellers.

Ted Ingram, manager of Ray White Papatoetoe, added: "Some of my best employees are women and I think it's often because they have an empathy for people.

"Often the best negotiators are females, especially when they're negotiating for themselves."