Women More Ethical in Business Than Men, Say BU Researchers

Nov. 22, 1996

by Alan Hunt

WACO, Texas - More females in the work force might improve the business world's ethical environment, suggest four Baylor University researchers who have compared the ethical stances of men and women business professionals.

The four professors, Drs. William A. Weeks, Carlos W. Moore, Joseph A. McKinney and Justin G. Longenecker, mailed questionnaires to a random sample of 10,000 business people across the United States. Of the 1,875 replies, 85.1 percent came from males and 14.9 percent from females.

Their responses to 19 ethical vignettes posed by the survey revealed that females appear to possess higher ethical judgment regarding such issues as violating environmental pollution standards, bribing foreign customers, corporate espionage, impartial promotion practices, ignoring product safety issues, hiring less qualified male applicants, and unacceptable CEO compensation increases.

On the other hand, say the Baylor professors, the survey indicated that males appear to adopt a more strict ethical stance than females regarding collusion in construction bidding situations and illegally copying computer software.

Describing ethical judgment and behavior in business as a "timely and controversial issue in American society," the researchers say the focus of their study becomes more relevant when one recognizes the increasing number of women entering the work force and the continued "graying" of the nation's population.

Overall, they discovered a "significant difference" between males and females on most matters requiring ethical judgment. "Based on our sample of respondents, we find that females demonstrate higher ethical judgment than their male counterparts in numerous situations," they say.

"Given the perception that ethics in the business environment are declining, it appears that an influx of more females into the work force might improve the ethical environment based on how ethical problems are perceived and resolved," their study declares.

While admitting the results of their research are "interesting," the professors add a word of caution. First, they point out, those surveyed indicated their views regarding ethical judgment for hypothetical vignettes, "which may or may not relate to their behavior in actual situations."

They also suggest further study of regional differences to determine what degree ethnicity influences ethical judgment, including comparisons of groups within the U.S. to international groups.

"Finally, it may be beneficial to replicate the current study when using a sample that is comprised of a larger proportion of females in relation to males."

The professors say their survey also indicated that there is a significant difference in ethical judgment across career stages, with those in the later stages of their career displaying higher ethical judgment than those in lower career stages.

For more information about the survey, contact Weeks and Moore at Baylor's Department of Marketing, (817) 755-3523, and McKinney at the Department of Economics, (817) 755-2263.

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