Study: Women Less Likely to Compromise on Ethics in Business

New research suggests that organizations looking to hire and retain women should consider how much they emphasize ethical behavior in the workplace.

Researchers are positing a new theory as to why there are fewer women in MBA programs and high-ranking positions in the business world.

According to a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science  [paywall], women are less willing to compromise their ethics to get ahead in business or make more money.

Our research suggests that doing business ethically could help businesses retain talented women.

Study coauthors Jessica Kennedy, research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, and Laura Kray, professor at the University of California, Berkley, Haas School of Business, suggest that organizations that value ethics may find favor among women workers.

“There is a lot of debate out there about whether businesses can do well and do good at the same time,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Our research suggests that doing business ethically could help businesses retain talented women.”

In the first of three studies, the researchers measured responses to ethical compromises in work settings and found that women were more likely than men to distance themselves from ethically questionable business situations that could lead them to abandon their values.

In the second study, participants were presented with job descriptions for positions that involved varying degrees of ethical compromises (for example, one  job description required applicants to invest in a company  with unethical business practices, while another required applicants to refrain from investing in that company). Women were found to be less interested than men in jobs that presented ethical compromises, but they were just as interested as men in other jobs.

The final study—a word-association exercise—found that women were more likely to implicitly associate business, rather than law or medicine, with immorality.

The study did not find that women are ethically superior to men. Nor did it suggest that business is more unethical than law or medicine. It only found that women perceive business as more unethical, Kennedy said.

“To the extent that businesses want to retain talented women, they should be holding ethics training, selecting leaders who have high ethical standards, and emphasizing ethics within the core culture of the company,” she added.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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