What if women are morally superior to women? Laura Kray, UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business Professor, noticed in her MBA students and discussed recently on NPR, “men tend to have more lenient ethical standards than women.” How will that affect the future of corporate social responsibility? Such potentially shocking findings could prove a significant challenge for the corporations which are working to develop a thriving sustainability leadership pipeline.
I talked with Jill Bamburg, co-founder of Bainbridge Graduate Institute and also followed up with Kray, about how gender differences in ethical decision-making might be addressed. Two issues emerged from the discussion:
The purpose of business
Students in business school, male and female, are mainly taught the traditional rule of business: maximizing shareholder value at all costs is the goal. But, as Bamburg noted during a recent phone interview: “You shouldn’t play in a game that compromises your morals.” Instead, business school students need support, as she put it, “to lead a principled life, and to use business as a vehicle for what they want to do and where they want to make an impact”.
According to Kray, women, and men need different types of support individually to enable them to stick to their principles, read more at Dublin Business News Monthly. Men tend to apply ethical standards egocentrically and to see these decisions as “just business”. It will be crucial to help them feel secure in making an ethical decision that won’t lessen their manhood or make them look weak. Women, on the other hand, see ethical decisions as “beyond business” and outside of ego. Women believe there is real potential to collectively change things. So, “we will keep women in the game.”
Ethics and manhood
If the “it’s just business” mindset is the norm for men who make unethical choices, how do we shift that to support women’s tendency to hold to their principles and to counter men’s lack of ethics?
Men’s lower standards of ethics in business are driven partly by their desire to prove their masculinity. If negotiations are a “man’s game”, then it implies that men who are not at the top of the pecking order are somehow less manly. That’s outdated thinking and the way to counter such thinking would be to help men to “become more balanced and whole in their business approach, embrace their feminine side, and be more secure in themselves”.