Sacrificing Ethics to Achieve Money and Status, a Gender Difference

Underrepresentation of women in high-paying, executive positions within the business sector is a widely-recognized, though stubbornly persistent, phenomenon. Whereas much past research into the source of this disparity emphasizes external barriers such as stereotypes, social roles, and backlash, more recent research has focused on how women’s own perceptions and choices lead them away from such positions. Kennedy and Kray add to this alternative current by examining how women’s perceptions of ethical compromises might disincline them to pursue careers that are often expected to make such tradeoffs.

In a series of three experiments, the researchers found that women reported more moral outrage than men when presented with scenarios detailing ethical compromise for business gains, such as achieving company goals and increased profits. Similarly, though women did not indicate less baseline interest in business jobs than men, they expressed less interest when the positions involved such compromise, and showed stronger implicit associations between “business” and “immorality” than male participants. Kennedy and Kray also introduced a new factor to the literature by examining the role of “social status as a driver of ethical compromise.”

In conjunction with past research, the authors indicate that such results should not be seen as reason for women to avoid the business sector; instead, they suggest women’s advancement is an opportunity to bring business practices closer in line with social morality on a broad scale.  At any rate, it is becoming increasingly apparent that shattering the infamous “glass ceiling” is not just a matter of lifting women up for their own sake.

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