In the Workplace, People Expect Women to Act More Ethically Than Men

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What are the ethics?
What are the ethics?Photo: Getty Images

It’s no surprise that, in a broad sense, women are given the one-up in terms of the expectation of being ethical. Even if you are a m’lady in a fedora, you probably at least half-understand the thought that women seem more predisposed to ethical behavior than men. But that positive stereotype can have a negative impact on women when it comes to how they actually do act.

Organizational sociologist Mary-Hunter McDonnell from the University of Pennsylvania sought to determine if this ethical stereotype really does impact women, so she worked with Jessica Kennedy at Vanderbilt University and Nicole Stephens at Northwestern University in an experiment on volunteers. When they asked volunteers to determine a jail sentence for a hospital administrator who had purposely filed a false Medicare claim, the recommended sentence was about 80 days for the male candidate and 130 days for the female candidate. This result even came with all of the details remaining exactly identical between the two incidents.

But McDonell pushed her test even further by looking back into disciplinary action taken in 500 different cases where a lawyer was disciplined before the American Law Association. McDonnell and her colleagues revealed their results on NPR: “Women had a 35 percent chance of being disbarred in any given case, and men had a 17 percent chance. So that suggests that females had a 106 percent higher likelihood of being disbarred than males.” The conclusion: Women are expected to perform at a higher ethical standard than men in the workplace. Any surprise?