Maybe Women Simply are More Ethical than Men

This is really interesting.

From a recent Morning Edition segment, Why Men Outnumber Women Attending Business Schools, comes this provocative subheading:

New research explores gender disparities in business school enrollment by the different ways men and women appear to process ethical compromise.

Here are the “players” (the names/people in the segment):

David Greene: Host of the Program
Shankar Vedantam: the reporter for this segment, a social science researcher
Laura Cray: a researcher at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley

Some excerpts (please read carefully) from the segment:

LAURA CRAY: What I found is firstly that men tend to have more lenient ethical standards than women, and secondly, that negotiators are more likely to tell a blatant lie to a female counterpart than a male counterpart.

VEDANTAM: So both men and women, when they’re asked to represent the buyer (in an imaginary real estate negotiation), they seem to come to different conclusions. Men are more willing to lie on behalf of the buyer and say they are not planning to turn this project into a commercial project. Women are more likely to be upfront and tell the truth.

GREENE: So let me stop you there. She’s basically saying that men are morally inferior to women.?

GREENE: That men are more willing to just lie on behalf of who they representing?

VEDANTAM: You know, psychologically, David, that is one way to put it. But there’s something else going on. In a study that Kray conducted with Michael Haselhuhn, she found that men tend to apply ethical principles egocentrically. And what that means is that when an ethical decision affects them negatively, they’re likely to perceive the situation as being unethical. But when the situation benefits them, they’re likely to say: Well, it’s a gray area – it’s not such a big deal.

GREENE: So let me just make sure I understand that. If a man is representing the person who is selling the house, they’re going to say: Hey, the buyer should be honest here, they should be ethical, they should admit that their intention is to turn this into a big condo unit. But if they’re actually representing the buyer they might say: Oh, it’s fine, this is business, I don’t need to tell you I’m going to turn this into a condo.

GREENE: So these differences in sort of ethical thinking, do these researchers think that they say a lot about women and their comfort or discomfort with the world of business?

VEDANTAM: I think that’s exactly what they’re saying. They are saying at in every step of the process, right from business school on to the actual corporate world, women are confronting a triple hurdle. The first hurdle is that men are more willing to accept jobs that involve ethical compromise. Men seem to be less plagued by ethical doubt. And women are not only plagued by ethical doubt, they’re actually targeted for deception.

And some observations.

First, maybe men really are not as ethical as women. (Have you ever suspected this?  I think I have…)

Second, this may mean that… men are simply not very ethical. What does this say about ethics, corruption, “blind spots” in our society — a society where men make up far more positions of power and authority than women?

Third (an issue the segment raises), maybe this is part of what leads to lower numbers of women entering business. But,

It’s her hope (Ms. Cray) that if women actually understand the way they’re thinking about business, that they actually understand that process, they will find a way to stay in the game and also stay ethical.

I think men have some ethical (make that unethical) facing up to do…

And, let’s remember — there is a difference between what one can get away with  “legally,” and what is right, ethical, “noble.”

One thought on “Maybe Women Simply are More Ethical than Men

  1. No, not all men are unethical.

    But, maybe, these observations (by a researcher from U C Berkeley, and a social science researcher) might make more people think about ethical issues.

    And, there are plenty of examples of “wide-spread” ethical…”lapses” might be the word. Think of all the lapses that helped lead to the financial collapse in 2008 (Like Michael Lewis chronicles, among the mortgage companies especially, in The Big Short).

    I found the segment through-provoking. And, I think it helps prompt a conversation worth pursing.

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