Why The Challenging Difference?

I came across some interesting data in Sports Illustrated about player challenges in professional tennis.  In the biggest tournaments, a player can ask for a video review of an official’s call (whether the ball was in or out).  If the player is correct, s/he keeps the challenge and loses it if s/he is wrong.  There are no additional penalties if a player is consistently wrong in his/her challenges. According to the article, men and women are correct on their challenges at nearly the same rate (27%).  However, men challenge 25% more calls on a per point basis. Why?

It is surprising to me that female players at this level would be less willing to challenge calls than the men.  I do not believe that it is a competitiveness issue—Serena Williams and Rafa Nadal appear to be equally driven. I would think that is true (on average) of the players at this level.

I would be interested to see if whether women use their challenges more frequently when there is a female chair umpire (the final arbiter during matches) or a male one.  Note that the United States Tennis Association has a very clear statement on diversity of their chair umpires.  But, the USTA only controls a subset of the major tournaments. Note that women serve as chair umpires for matches between men and vice versa, but there are more male chair umpires in the tournaments where they have the video review system.

Tennis makes for an interesting cross-cultural study in that the players are from all over the world as are the chair umpires.  Yet, this data suggests that these strong and talented women, who are operating under the same written rules as the men, are less willing to challenge authority, even when there is objective data to support them.  Margaret Neal suggests that women don’t know, or are unwilling, to ask for more, hence they get less in some situations.  This may be an example of this phenomenon.

Dr. Neal points out the implications from a formal educational perspective for women:  They should be trained to ask for more so they get the same financial rewards as their equally qualified male counterparts.  For organizations, training women to do so may cost them some in salary benefits, but would be of much greater value in terms of organizational performance.  Women who negotiate better terms for themselves from internal and external resources are going to be more effective (hence earning the bigger salaries they negotiated for themselves).

Dr. Neal’s data suggests that asking for more is an acquired skill.  Women, and their organizations, will benefit from learning it.

For more information on skills assessment and leadership, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or [email protected]

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