NPR’s Morning Edition offered a fascinating look at research by the Institute’s Laura Kray on the gender gap on business ethics and why it discourages women from entering business school.
Kray, professor of leadership in the Berkeley-Haas Management of Organizations Group, co-authored a study last year which found that men are more willing than women to make ethical compromises. That gap, and the perception that business often entails ethical lapses, the researchers found, are a big reason that women are still under-represented in business schools.
In an interview with NPR’s Shankar Vedantam, Kray added another twist: In negotiations, both men and women are more likely to tell a blatant lie if their counterpart is female.
“What I found is firstly that men tend to have more lenient ethical standards than women,’’ Kray explained. “And secondly, that negotiators are more likely to tell a blatant lie to a female counterpart than a male counterpart.”
Vedantam described this as a “triple hurdle” for women in business.
“The first hurdle is that men are more willing to accept jobs that involve ethical compromise,” he said. “Men seem to be less plagued by ethical doubt. And women are not only plagued by ethical doubt, they’re actually targeted for deception.”
Kray also found that men apply ethical decisions more egocentrically than women. If an ethical decision hurts them in some way, men are likely to view it as an unethical decision. But if an ethical lapse benefits them, men are more likely than women to brush it off as no big deal.
Nobody can argue that women are wrong for placing a higher emphasis on doing the right thing. But Kray raised the concern that some women may be taking themselves out of the conversation by avoiding business careers entirely.
“It’s her hope 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,” Vedantam said.