JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Do men or women have bigger egos?


The Big Idea

Big ideas are what successful business is all about. Each week, Alexandra Cain takes a look at anything and everything to help your business shoot the lights out.

View more entries from The Big Idea

Is the male ego really such a delicate creature?

Is the male ego really such a delicate creature?

Chatting with my friend William recently, he told me a story of how he’d moved into his very own office at work. He was enjoying a nice little set-up: he could close the door if he wanted to, get work done without distractions, he had plenty of room to spread out and a nice view of the city.

He explained it was only a temporary thing. The business is moving buildings soon and when that happens, he’ll be back in the cubicle mosh pit.   

But one by one, all the males who were senior to him, and still slumming it in open plan, had come in to remind him his little own-office perk was only temporary, and not to get used to it. They couldn’t stand the fact William had something they didn’t have.

We put this response down to being an ego thing. Their male pride had been bruised by the fact some young upstart had garnered something they didn’t have. It obviously ruffled their peacock feathers.

So we got to talking about why it was that only the blokes had come by to put him back in his place. The women obviously didn’t feel threatened.

We came up with a theory: ego clashes occur far more frequently between people of the same gender, and seldom between people of different genders.

I put this to Dr Malcolm Johnson, head of research and thought leadership at the Australian Institute of Management.

He says gender and ego is a complex area. “There are a lot of unconscious biases at play. Men have more ego displays. But they tend to see themselves as jocular competitors, although their competitive interactions are more overt and obvious.”

According to Johnson, the unconscious bias that happens between women occurs in a completely different way. “Women look at each other as competitors, and tend to look for approval from men. There’s lots of research that backs this up. There tends to be internecine warfare between women.” You can read some of that research here, here, and here.

Johnson says if it had been a woman rather than William that had been given the office, the outcome would have been rather different.

“This would actually be less of an issue for men than it would be for women. And once they had moved into a new building the issue would have disappeared; because it’s a temporary situation, the male ego would not be too bruised. But it would have caused real difficulties between women if a female had been given the office. Although men are more obvious in their ego displays, they are actually more supportive of each other than women tend to be.”

Johnson says women don’t support each other because they see other women as competitors. “But all this happens at an unconscious level,” he says.

He also says men understand the status plays that happen between them. “The top dog will always be the top dog, but there tends to be more power-sharing between men. But that doesn’t happen so much with women in senior roles.”

From an organisational perspective, Johnson says businesses can set up a culture that aggravates unconscious bias. “A more sophisticated management team will set up norms that ensure the best possible relationship between genders and all cultures. The idea is to set up common rules of engagement.”

Johnson’s research collaborator is Professor Charmine Hartel. They are working together to identify best practices that facilitate positive workplaces, with gender equity a key consideration.

Here are Hartel’s principles for creating a positive workplace:

  1. Build a respectful, inclusive and psychologically safe work environment for all employees.
  2. Ensure transparent decision-making that is interactionally, procedurally and distributively just.
  3. Support women and minorities to develop positive networks with senior members of staff in the workplace and in their profession.
  4. Support women and minorities to become active members of the peak bodies in their profession.
  5. Strive for a diverse workforce with good representation of women and minorities, especially in senior roles.
  6. Recruit diverse employees and include in performance management discussions on supporting diversity.
  7. Ensure that resources which are limited are distributed in fair and transparent ways.
  8. Have a clear diversity policy statement, and monitor the organisational environment to ensure it has a positive diversity climate.

One final thought, says Johnson, is that terms of engagement in an organisation should embody principles that encourage positive interaction around “sacrosanct” beliefs and values.

“When these are not observed, prompt interdiction from management should address any form of inequity emerging, be it procedural inequity through to covert bullying behaviours, including those between members of the same gender,” he says.

What do you think? For which gender is ego the bigger issue?


  • Way to go to ignite a gender debate on this column yet again (I mean seriously the question at the end asking which gender has a bigger ego issue is uncalled for) and it's no big surprise that women are being pegged as the lesser sex again like in the 'Beat the office bitch' article not long ago. Does the author have a problem with women herself I wonder?

    Date and time
    August 01, 2014, 12:39AM
    • Its just research on human behaviour. The research isnt sexist although the behaviour might be depending on how you look at it. So say the research is sexist is like saying beast cancer is sexist because it targets more women than men.

      I would have so say it's pretty spot on though, from my observations with other male colleagues. People tend to evaluate thier own success against people from the same age, gender, and sometimes specialisations.

      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 10:00AM
    • I didn't see that women were pegged as the lesser sex.

      It says that women in workplaces tend to see each other as competitors more than men.

      Given all the rave we have about how competition is the panacea for all economic ills, one might argue that the article is saying men are the lesser sex...

      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 10:19AM
    • There is a pattern forming.

      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 10:50AM
  • Any promotion should be merit based, 100% of the time. Forced agendas around "gender equality", "racial equality", nurturing the young as part of "succession planning" or other forms of exclusionary practice, these practices have been known in the past by other forms, namely apartheid.

    Date and time
    August 01, 2014, 6:50AM
    • This seems fine in principle, until we observe that merit is directly linked to socio-economic power at birth, which disadvantages developing nations (often victims of past colonialism), minorities and the female gender. When we correct all of those little crimes against humanity, then maybe a meritocracy can work without protest.

      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 2:36PM
  • Who cares?

    Date and time
    August 01, 2014, 9:01AM
    • Do these people even know exactly what an ego is? where does it comes from? where does it reside (in the leg, arm, heart, liver, toes, brains)? Dissect every part of your body and tell me where this 'ego' is. Until someone can show me exactly where this suppose 'ego' is; i will say 'ego' is just an illusion people make up.

      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 9:29AM
      • Yep, if you can't see it, it doesn't exist. Like gravity. Or self-awareness and the capability for rational thought.

        Date and time
        August 01, 2014, 12:09PM
      • there was some bloke called Freud who once wrote about ego.

        Date and time
        August 01, 2014, 12:56PM

    More comments

    Comments are now closed
    Featured advertisers
    Small Biz newsletter signup

    Small Biz newsletter signup Small Biz news delivered to your inbox twice-weekly.

    Sign up now