Unequal in Our Expression

The expression of altruism is variable, and therefore must be considered in variable ways. To make a comparison, studies have shown that the expression of “aspiration” differs across gender groups, with women more likely than men to have an intrinsic desire to rise through the ranks and yet find more barriers to promotion. This outcome, in many cases studied, is based on a perceived lower tendency in women to be vocal about their aspirations and to aggressively negotiate their salaries. Does this mean that women are less worthy of promotion because of this perception of their aspirations? Of course, it does not.

Similarly, the expression of altruism has also been shown to vary across the gender line. For example, James Andreoni and Lise Vesterlund in the Quarterly Journal of Economics noted that women are more likely than men to accept unfair or unjust offers and are more likely to give of themselves as the personal cost to them increases. To apply this to business, when disruption occurs and companies need more from their people than they ever have, it is more likely to be women who meet the need, no matter what it may cost them.

And yet we still don’t see women outbalancing men in organizational leadership positions, despite their altruism and its benefit to business performance. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change the way we work with one another, it is arguably still women who have been required to “give more” in the face of higher demands, while working with increasingly fewer resources. One example: a manager (male) makes an off-hand comment about maternity leave during the pandemic having been “like a vacation,” expecting a new mother to hop back into twelve-hour workdays while still nursing and caring for an infant herself. The kicker? Women will all-too-often do so, and at potentially great expense. Altruism, when taken to such extremes, can lead to depression, heightened anxiety, reduced attention spans, lower levels of engagement, and an overall reduction in quality of work.

If sustainability of performance is the collective goal, altruism therefore requires nuance in how it is selected for and ultimately rewarded…which we will dive into in the fourth and final instalment of this series.