Competition at Work

Activity Description:


To inspire critical thinking about how family friendly work amenities may be related to workplace rewards and how social categories (such as gender and family status) influence people’s career paths.


1. Create sets of 2 employee profiles to hand out to small groups.  The profiles should be matched on all factors (i.e., education, work experience, job reviews, work-family policy use, gender, and parental status) save one. The following are a few examples of relevant differences:

  • Match a pair on sex with only difference being policy use.
  • Match a pair on policy use with only difference being sex.
  • Match a pair on sex and policy use with only difference being the reason for policy use (e.g. one employee uses policy to care for their own medical problem while the other uses the policy for child care issues) 

2. Inform students that they will be simulating a work-place situation in which they act as supervisors who must award a promotion to one of two candidates.

3. Divide students into groups of 2-4 and hand out a set of two profiles to each group.  Ask the group to discuss both candidates and make a decision as a group about who to promote.

4. Have groups report who they promoted and why.

5.Discuss and illuminate patterns.  Bring up issues such as gender, policy use, and rationale for policy use, asking how these issues factored in decisions students made.


This classroom activity is inspired by experiments conducted by Tammy Allen.  See the following articles for more detail:

Allen, T. D., Russell, J. E.A. & Rush, M. C.  (1994). The effects of gender and leave of absence on attributions for high performance, perceived organizational commitment, and allocation of organizational rewards.  Sex Roles, 31, 443-464.

Allen, T. D. & Russell, J. E. A.  (1999). Parental leave of absence:  Some not so family friendly implications.  Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29, 166-191.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Sarah Beth Estes and Joe Michael as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity