The Ivy vs. The Spinach; The Beauty vs. The Plain Jane; Men vs. Women; The Rich vs. The Poor: How the differences are realized when it comes to the workplace


The title may sound unnecessarily pompous but I do hope that the title may resonate with some phenomenon happening to take place in but not limited to your offices. You are encouraged associate these pairs with phenomenon taking place in places other than workplace and keep me posted on your observation if you would like to do so but in this post, I prefer to limit my observation to workplace only (However, I am not sure if I may go astray sometimes by mentioning other places other than offices).

At the first place, I would like you to re-read the title and imagine the subjects mentioned in each pair. Think about the relations between the former to the latter, the common grounds shared between these relations and try putting them into the context of workplace. What do the Ivy League and the Spinach League have something to do with the workplace or may the effects exerted on a specific aspect of workplace by the Ivy League and the Beauty be the same.

Time for guesswork is up now. You may get the same ideas as mine now (but don’t mind if you do not share the same thought as mine as I don’t mind too). I mean to mention the difference between the former and the latter that may result in the gaps in the expected and the actual performances between that of the former and the later.

It comes as obvious to that the former outweighs the latter. The Ivy League refers to top 8 universities of the US, however, in the context of this post, the term used to refer to overseas well-ranked institutions. The Spinach League, a term suddenly coming across my mind for the spinach’s same nature of “creeping or climbing” as the Ivy and its origin typically tracing back to the local culture, refer to local institutions. The remaining couples should make better sense to you for their obvious opposition.

Placing these couples in the context of workplaces, which one do you think to have higher likelihood to succeed at the workplace? Though consistent success are not easy to be guaranteed, it may not be difficult for people, in general, to perceive that one representing the former stand a higher chance of outperforming ones representing for the latter. Ones with university degree from an oversea institution may perform better to ones graduating from local universities. Ones that possess better appearance tend to be more preferred to ones with plain features. (It is not always the case, though, as ones with very good appearance may be deemed as less capable than ones with average appearance and the above assumption may not be right with some workplaces where appearance is not assigned much weight). Men do not necessarily outperform women and it is generally not the case but should performance be measured by amount of effort expended to generate an equal level of success, I do think that men tend to perform more efficiently to women for their fewer effort consumed. We move to the last one where the rich is paired up with the poor. Once again, it is not always the case where the rich outperforms the poor; however, when it comes to the amount of effort to generate the same level of success, it is more than likely that one born with a silver spoon in his mouth would need less effort than one brought up in family where making both ends meet is by no means an easy task.

You may find my statements somehow bitter. It is, however, not the case. What I try to communicate through the post is not a sense of hatred towards the Ivy League, the Beauty, Men or the Rich. I try to bring in my own observation in how ones possessing one of these aforementioned characteristics act or behave differently from one possessing the opposite ones and how such difference is translated into their (both perceived and actual) performance.

The most important characteristic that I observe in ones coming from the group of former is their great assertiveness – the ability to articulate one’s preference without offending another. While people talk much about tenacity as key factor leading to success and sometimes play down the role of assertiveness. In my opinion, assertiveness often originates from a sense of ownership, which in turn translates into a sense of certainty. One without a sense of ownership tends to be more insecure and get discouraged. The idea is straight. You have something and you will feel more certain than ones possessing nothing. You got a degree from a top-notch institution and you do feel that you deserve a well-paid job that is commensurate with your knowledge and skill. You graduate from a top local university and you tend to accept a job which may not match your expectation perfectly, reassuring yourself that this job is too good to be true. It makes me recall the performance review taking place in my office a couple of months ago upon the termination of internship. We recruited interns from both overseas and local universities and each intern was required to self-evaluate their performance at the end of the internship period. In our company, performance is rated over a scale varying from 1 to 5, where 1 represents for the most effective performance. While interns coming from local universities tend to play safe by rating them at No.3, ones graduating from top universities do not hesitate to rate them 1. It comes as surprise to lots of my colleagues though as there is a norm in my office that you should rate yourself No.3 and leave the evaluation to your seniors. Sometimes, people accept to follow the norm for their fear of being judged by the others to be over-confident and arrogant. I was a little bit surprised too but I do feel that the norm is not right. More interesting, when it comes to the round table, where all seniors in the Company are summoned to evaluate interns’ performance, we tend to rate ones from the Ivy the higher rate than ones from the Spinach. Many people do think that it is kinda abnormal for ones to rate them that high but then persuade themselves that the Ivy tends to outperform the Spinach and they deserve such high rate. We have tried to be biasfree but I am absolutely sure that bias has not been totally eliminated during the evaluation or the fact that ones come from the Ivy or the Spinach are really capitalized into our evaluation. You may tell me that the gap in actual and perceived performance between the Ivy and the Spinach is the better education that the Ivy ones have experienced but I do think it is the sense of ownership that counts here. Should you think you are of better position to your peers, you are more likely to be confident and think that you deserve such high the rate.

The same patterns happen to the remaining pairs. While the comparison between the Beauty and the Plain Jane may trigger some debates, the pair of Men vs. Women does make a nice observation. I suggest “Lean In” written by Sheryl Sanberg a good source of reference. I do remember how I felt awed upon reading the very first pages of the book and found the same things happening around the office. For example, men are often more appreciated if they stay late at office for work whereas it is taken for granted when it comes to women. Men expressing their desires to get promoted will be praised by their seniors as ambitious but women doing the same thing will be more likely to be viewed as aggressive. The theory of “the sense of ownership” may be not convincing here and further investigation may be required but I do think the assertiveness still plays an important role here.

The last pair is the Rich vs. the Poor. As I have written so far, it is not always the case that the Rich outperforms the Poor but if we measure success by the unit of effort expended to gain a unit of success, the Rich should be more cost-efficient. There is no disputing the fact that one born from better-off families with better accesses to network and net worth is more likely to possess a higher sense of ownership that facilitate their willingness and ability to make big decisions. I recommend Outliers written by Malcolm Gladwell a nice source of reference where the story of Chris Langan and Oppenheimer may be good illustration for the case.

In the light of the above, do I mean that it is the end for ones coming from the Spinach League, a Plain Jane, a woman or a poor guy? It is absolutely not the message that I try to convey here. My observations are, of course, still fragmented and may not be supported by strong evidences but I do think that understanding how the former outperform the latter may help us revel in the way ones could reach success with higher level of effort-efficiency. Should you hold a different view or have any observation worth sharing, feel free to raise your voice here. 😀


4 responses to “The Ivy vs. The Spinach; The Beauty vs. The Plain Jane; Men vs. Women; The Rich vs. The Poor: How the differences are realized when it comes to the workplace

    • Cảm ơn góp ý của em nhé :)) Hôm nay chị đang định đổi theme thấy theme này trông có vẻ cool cool thế là đổi sang 😀 Để chị nghiên cứu lại xem có theme khác vậy 😀


  1. Very interesting post. I think there are many factors and mechanisms that may contribute to the differences (or gaps?) between the groups. They can be individual (?) factors as you have successfully pointed out, such as the sense of ownership and self-confidence. There may be some mechanisms implying the gaps as well. For example, Signaling Model views formal education as a means through which labors can signal their unobserved competencies. Thus, those from Ivies seem to send better signal to the market and/or to employers, which may in turns give them better evaluations. (However this is not the only reason that they receive higher rate in assessments or the likes.) Another explanation for variations between groups is differences in human capital. There exist several forms of human capital, such as formal education, skills and other life experience. There can be a trade-off between educational levels and other forms of human capital such as skills, work experience and other life experience. If these forms of human capital are substitutable contributions to individual activity in the labor market (a worker can substitute educational qualification for shortage in work experience and vice versa), those from the Ivies, Beauties, Men and the Rich do have certain advantages over the other, all else equals. For example, although an Ivy student and a Spinach student have the same level of education (bachelor), the Ivy seem to have more international experience, which can make them better favored in particular working environment.

    Just some random thoughts of mine 😛 I’m very interested in this topic, really hope to look into it somehow further.


    • Many thanks for your comment. Some terms have not been known to me yet but it’s nice to gain different insights into the problems. And it’s nice to know your blog too ❤


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