Wal-Mart Investigated for Overseas Practices – Again
Whistle-blowing in the Workplace

Male Professionals with Higher Ethical Standards Earn Less

Study Results Bring into Question a Different Work Ethic for Male and Female Employees

I recently read in the May 14 Harvard Daily Stat Sheet that men get paid less when they behave ethically than men who do not behave ethically. Specifically, male business professionals who self-report high ethical character earn, on average, 3.4% less than peers who don’t report having such standards, according to an analysis of data on thousands of students by Andrew Hussey of the University of Memphis. Moreover, men who reported that their MBA programs enhanced their ethical standards received 6.5% lower wages than men who reported no such gain. For women, the situation is different: Female professionals who self-report high ethical standards receive no penalty, and women who said that their schooling had raised their standards received a premium averaging 5.5%.

If these results accurately reflect the workplace environment for men and women, the implications are quite stunning. First, the ethics programs undertaken by many companies in the post-Enron years are not working. It could be that whistle-blowing still is a shunned activity in the business world. But, why are men penalized for it while women who report high ethical standards are rewarded for it?

One reason for the difference might be the historically different ethical standards in society for men and women. Men are supposed to be the problem-solvers and do what it takes to solve the problem – even if it means to engage in unethical behavior. Loyalty also is expected of men in the workplace. As for women, they are more caring, compassionate, and understanding. They listen first and then act. They contemplate their actions before deciding what to do. For too many men, they act first and think about it later. This could explain why so many of the ethical lapses during the early part of the 21st century are due to actions of male business leaders. Perhaps as in other areas of gender and work equality, women will catch up over time. I hope not – not in this case.

The results are interesting in another way. In 2010 a professor at Dartmouth University, Edmondson Bell, surveyed her MBA students to see whether they would prefer a male or female manager and was alarmed to see an overwhelming 90% of the women preferred a male. Apparently, the preference by women for male over female bosses is common knowledge in the study of workplace dynamics.

The findings of a 2008 study from The University of Toronto revealed that women working under a sole female supervisor reported more distress and physical stress symptoms than women working under a lone male supervisor. The same stress levels were reported for a male/female supervising team, implying that the very presence of a woman in a position of power is a stress trigger for female employees.

According to Bella Online’s Stress Management editor, Debbie Mandel, a Gallup Poll of female employees found that these employees complain that their female supervisors:

  • Bring problems to work with them
  • Have mood swings
  • Don’t have a clear company vision and are all over the map
  • Don’t do as a good a job as they could do

I have a hard time believing this to be true. Perhaps it is because in my field of teaching – Accounting – female students tend to be more attentive, diligent, and are smarter than their male counterparts.

I think these study results are the product of traditional workplace perceptions that women are diverted from workplace problems because of their concerns with respect to raising children, and they are not as focused on their careers. Could it be that female employees feel that male employees are more sensitive to these issues because they may have spouses who deal with the same thing?

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on May 31, 2012