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December 14, 2017

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Does Gender Imbalance in Business Come Down to Ethics?

Does Gender Imbalance in Business Come Down to Ethics?

While women are better represented than ever in the business world, there is no denying that there is still work to do in terms of achieving equality. Hundreds of studies have looked at gender imbalance and identified areas for improvement, and studies by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the University of California, Berkley suggest that a significant portion of the blame for the inequities — extending from MBA programs to the corner office — falls on one key difference between men and women: ethics.

Overall researchers find women tend to value ethics more than men do in business, and are not as likely to compromise ethical principles, even if it means less success for them or their company.

Understanding the Goals of Business
For generations, the underlying goal of all MBA programs has been to teach students how to maximize company value, whether in a mom-and-pop shop or a multinational corporation. In the wake of a number of high-profile scandals, many business schools are placing a greater emphasis on ethics, and training students to engage in ethical decision-making that accounts for all of the moral implications of potential actions.

However, this training does not always account for gender differences surrounding ethics. According to the researchers, men are more likely to make decisions under the ethos of “it’s just business,” while women are less inclined to sacrifice their moral principles, regardless of the gain. This research does not apply to every individual, as there are exceptions on both sides, but the general pattern of ethical decision-making tends to follow gender lines.

Why the Divide Exists
Researchers attempting to pinpoint exactly why the gender gap exists theorize that it comes down to the gender norms and expectations for men and women that are still prevalent in our culture. Men in business are expected to avoid typically “feminine” behaviors, such as forming collaborations, valuing relationships, compromising, and considering the greater good in favor of “winning” and not showing any weakness. Women aren’t inherently more ethical than men are and don’t men lack ethical principles entirely; the expectations for men are such that men are more likely to override their own ethical principles despite moral reservations in their quest for success.

The Effect on Women
Experts note that the effect of the ethical divide goes beyond the public perception of an organization or the ripple effect that a decision can have outside of the company. Women faced with unethical decision-making where they must compromise their own standards are more likely to leave an organization, or change careers all together. This affects the level of success they can achieve, and may inhibit other women from seeking careers in business.

However, there is now a noticeable move in the right direction when it comes to ethics in business. More companies are publicly valuing ethics, and creating cultures in which ethical behavior is the expected norm. When this behavior is rewarded, everyone, regardless of gender, behaves more ethically, which benefits the company and individuals alike.


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