Women: Just Stop Being So Damn Agreeable, Wouldja?

You'll make more money

It was the sort of study you hear about from time to time, if only because it makes good headlines: A bunch of researchers from Cornell and Notre Dame found that men with disagreeable personalities out-earn men with agreeable personalities by 18 percent. Huh.

Still, reported the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, those nice guys don’t finish last.

No, because that, friends, would be left to the nice ladies. Nice women are laster. Nice women are, in fact, the lastest. (“Disagreeable” women are slightly better off, but still only earn 5 percent more than their sweeter female counterparts.)

Look, it’s hardly a newsflash that nice doesn’t always translate as valuable, or that “disagreeable” traits like bluntness or aggression or anger telegraph a sort of chutzpah or confidence or something that we as capitalists value. And as woman are still making about 80 cents on the male dollar, it’s hardly groundbreaking news that even that poor nice guy does better financially (statistically speaking) than a hardcore, no-nonsense woman. So sure, yeah, okay—of course nice girls rank last in pay.

The real reason I can’t let this go is because I don’t think I’ve ever heard the secret to (financial) success in our system put so plainly. How to be valued most highly in your workplace? If you’re a man, then be a disagreeable man. If you’re a woman, well, you be a disagreeable man, too.

I’ll say this: Many of the most successful women in power with whom I’ve had the privilege to work have been tougher, blunter and more unapologetically strong-minded than any male co-worker I’ve ever had. I can only surmise that they were well-compensated in their high-level positions, and deservedly. (As well-compensated as male counterparts would have been? Who can say.)

But what really chaps my hide are the many, many women I know who are tough in a different way: They are resilient hard workers whose brains and talent keep them knee-deep in work and keep them moving forward without letting various injustices stop them. Alas, they are agreeable: They work late nights, they are team players, they slap on a smile when asked to work weekends, they are flinty in their willpower to get whatever job that needs doing done. They are thoughtful of their coworkers’ time. They are—in most of the places I have worked—an enormous part of what keeps the place running. They rarely indulge in diva-esque behavior, because it seems more productive to just work.

Fact is, women have been doing this for years. Since Rosie the Riveter. Since way before then. Working hard, being agreeable to any task. Not only are we socialized to do so—taught to balance hard work and ambition with consideration and grace that supposedly comes naturally to us—but I would argue that women have gotten to be better at that on average than men, with less sturm und drang and more sucking it up for the greater good.

And yet here we are, slapping less monetary value on that particular brand of toughness, coming from either gender—but especially from women. Not because it’s truly worth less—but because it is still a man’s world. (This man’s world, by the way, also boxes men into gender roles.) And so we’ve convinced ourselves that all those agreeable qualities we’ve associated with and expected from women for years and years and years are simply of less worth.

But what, I wonder, would happen if all those nice women whose blood, sweat, tears and, yes, agreeability that support so many professions up and quit? What would their value be then?