Women compete better when they are in a team as compared to men who give more preference to the role of an individual, says a new study.
Nearly two-thirds of the "gender competition gap" - the gap between the likelihood of men or women to enter a competition - disappears when people are offered the chance to compete in two-person teams rather than as individuals.
Academicians Andrew Healy and Jennifer Pate believe their research reveals that competing in teams "levels the playing field" by encouraging a higher number of qualified women to take part and discouraging unqualified men.
The economists conducted an experiment, in which the participants had to answer maths problems as quickly as possible.
The participants in teams decided whether they wanted to be paid according to the number of problems their two-person team answered correctly or whether they wanted to enter a competition against three other teams, whereas individual participants decided whether they wanted to compete against three other individuals.
The results showed that even though men and women performed equally well on the task, 81 percent of men chose to compete as individuals compared with 28 percent of women, while when participants competed in teams, the gender competition gap shrank by 31 percentage points to 22 percent, with 67 percent of men choosing to enter the competition compared with 45 percent of women.
The findings of the new research are contrary to previous research, which shows that a man is much more likely to choose to compete compared with a woman, even when the two are equally good at a given task.
The professors claim their study suggests that this gender competition gap can be narrowed by simple changes to the environment in which competitions are held and the gender competition gap may help to explain the continuing lack of women in positions of power.
A new way of measuring the performance of the only five women CEOs of FTSE 100 companies - Angela Ahrendts at Burberry, Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American and Dame Marjorie Scardino at Pearson, one that focuses on their ability as part of a team rather than in a testosterone-loaded, gladiatorial-style competition - could change this, the economists suggest.
"It appears to be the case that women often opt out of entering these competitive environments," the Guardian quoted pate as saying.
"Importantly, while qualified women opt out, unqualified men opt in. As a result, the gender competition gap may result in organisations failing to select the most qualified leaders.
Healy added: "The results of this study have implications for the nature of competitions. Competitions held on the basis of team performance rather than individual performance may attract more women - and fewer men".
The findings have been published in the Economic Journal.