April 24, 2014

There has been a lot of talk on the news lately about the pay gap between men and women. But a recent Morning Edition program on NPR highlighted an entirely different gender gap – showing some differences in levels of candor in business.

The news piece addressed two recent studies Laura Kray conducted among business school students at Haas School of Business (UCAL – Berkeley) and at the Wharton School, after noticing more men in her business classes than women. Following her research, she says that there is an “ethics gap” between men and women.

In one study, students were asked if a real estate buyer should tell the seller their true intentions for the property. Here is the gist of her results as reported on NPR by David Greene and Shankar Vedantam:

– Men generally tend to have more lenient ethical standards when conducting business; women are more likely to be upfront and tell the truth.

– Men tend to apply ethical standards egocentrically (as in, if it affects them negatively, then it’s an ethical issue, but if it doesn’t, then it’s a “grey” area)

– Both men and women are more likely to lie to a female in a negotiation, than to a male.

It paints an interesting and perhaps bleak picture of both genders, but gives us insights into why women may experience more discomfort in business negotiations.

In another study by Kray and researcher Jessica Kennedy, they asked men and women whether they would be willing to include an inferior ingredient in a product that would make it more profitable but also possibly harmful to some. Kray found that women were more likely than men to deem it “outrageous to go with the cheaper ingredient that’s going to cause harm to people when it could have been avoided.”

As Vedantam summarizes, “men seem less plagued by ethical doubt. And women are not only plagued by ethical doubt, they’re actually targeted for deception.”

Perhaps as so many of us are calling for more candor, we will evolve into a business ethical climate that can be more appealing to both genders.