Klarita Gërxhani member of KNAW

Klarita Gërxhani
Klarita Gërxhani
The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has elected 17 new members - distinguished scientists from all disciplines - for life, including VU Amsterdam Professor of Socio-economics Klarita Grxhani.

Klarita Grxhani , as an economist, conducts innovative research at the intersection of economics and sociology. Her research focuses on institutions, social status, and the mechanisms behind gender bias and inequality in the labor market. She is also interested in the informal economy, such as black work, and employers’ recruitment strategies. In her research, she combines various methods, including laboratory and field experiments and survey data. For example, she demonstrated through experiments that women perform equally well as men on a math task as long as they can work in isolation. However, once they hear that they will be compared to others, their performance declines, while men tend to perform better. This is due to deep-rooted gender stereotypes regarding competence and empathy, as shown by Grxhani. Much of her research has policy implications, for example, to promote diversity and equality in organizations: it is not enough to simply hire more women and people from diverse backgrounds. The stereotypes must also be challenged, and work arrangements adjusted.

Knowing when you’re being compared

When knowing that their own performance will be compared to others, men’s performance improves while women’s performance declines, according to experimental research by Grxhani. The main reasons are that in such a competitive setting, men believe that they are better than women, while women reduce their performance due to their adherence to a prescribed stereotype of being kind and not harming others.

In this research, she combines insights from behavioral economics on how women and men compete with insights from sociology on social status. Grxhani explains: "From research in economics, we know that men perform better when they have to compete with women for the same job or promotion. Whereas women tend to underperform when there is competition."

Her research contributes to this knowledge by showing that even when there is no job or other resources at stake, but there is simply a comparison between the performance of men and women, men outperform women. "That has to do with social status," Grxhani explains. "In five different laboratory experiments, we had students solve a simple mathematics problem. Women and men were equally good at it. The results changed when we told one group of participants that they would be ranked based on their performance and that their rankings would be known by a peer: The men in this group solved about 40 per cent more maths problems than the women in the group."

The research also provides insights into the underlying mechanisms. Men’s conscious or subconscious belief that they are better than women causes men to excel in competitive settings. Women, on the other hand, underperform when compared, because they believe they ought to be kind and not harm others. "Women do not believe that they are worse than men, but they do take into account the societal norm that ’women should be nice and empathetic’. As a result, they underperform," explains Grxhani.

Organisations that use performance reviews need to be aware of these behavioural effects, says Grxhani. It is one of the reasons why she considered having a managerial position and ended up at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, School of Business and Economics. "Now I am a manager myself and have an influence on policy, for example regarding performance reviews, assessments and equality in the workplace."

Read about the other new members in the. (in Dutch)

23 October 2023

When competing for social status, men perform better while women do worse