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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Sex, Gender, and Decisions Exploring the Cognitions and Choices that Result in Differential Outcomes

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To date, there has been much research related to sexism, discrimination, and biased evaluations of women for such traditionally masculine roles as management. If there are cues in the environment that suggest certain courses of action or occupational choices would likely lead to discrimination or would present significant barriers to obtaining desired outcomes, however, it is a rational and self-protective choice to select a different path. People normally won’t put themselves in situations where failure is likely. As such, concluding that differential sex outcomes results from discrimination may be overestimating its direct influence. (Indirectly discriminatory practices may, however, act as a deterrent, by discouraging certain populations from pursuing paths where bias is likely). A neglected contributory factor of differential gender representation may be people’s own decisions related to which paths are worth pursuing based on subjective cost–benefit analyses: risk perceived and likelihood of success x reward value.To tackle the overarching question of how sex and gender influence the decisions of men and women, a few different contexts were selected for examination. Specifically, of interest are decisions in competitive, risky, and entrepreneurial environ- ments. Recent research mostly notes that women are less likely to compete, are more risk averse, and are less likely to embark on an entrepreneur- ial career path. I will now explore each of these contexts briefly and suggest some conclusions that can be drawn from the research.

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