Are Women More Ethical in Business?

Do men and women have different ethical behavior in the business world? Apparently inquiring minds want to know. And that’s why at this year’s Dynamic Women in Business Conference, sponsored by the Women’s Student Association at Harvard Business School, attendees were able to participate in a panel discussion on the impact of corporate scandals on women in finance.

Despite their best efforts, panel participants weren’t able to reach a conclusion about whether recent whistleblowers, such as the three women selected to be Time magazine’s Persons of the Year 2002, prove that women have higher ethics than men. One panelist, Deirdre O'Donnell, senior vice president of fixed income, sales and trading at Lehman
Brothers, believes there are real differences between the sexes. She theorized, "Men want the immediate scorecard on a daily basis. I think women are driven less by money and more by a desire for recognition of their accomplishments."

Another panelist, Olive Darragh, director of financial institutions practice at the Boston office of the international consulting firm McKinsey and Company disagreed. She argued that insider-trading allegations against Martha Stewart show that women are just as likely to engage in unethical actions.

Like the participants at the conference, researchers have been unable to pinpoint if men and women have different standards. Back in 1999, Maureen L. Ambrose and Marshall Schminke, both professors of management at the University of Central Florida, attempted to find an answer. And, like the recent conference panelists, they found contradictory data to support a number of theories.

Ambrose and Schminke cited a 1994 study that showed men and women have little differences in terms of four values of ethics; equality, freedom, honesty, and responsibility. The two authors also cited a 1996 study that suggests women might enter the workplace with greater sensitivity to unethical behavior than men but lose that sensitivity over time.

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