Are Female Leaders More Ethical Than Male Leaders?

(By Ronald E. Riggio)

There is some emerging evidence that suggests that women may have certain advantages in leadership, particularly for today’s workplace that demands that leaders have strong emotional and social skills (women tend to have an advantage). Research suggests that women are more sensitive to ethical issues than are men (although there are some findings that suggest that there are no differences in the ethical sensitivity of men and women business executives). Women are also more likely to believe that corporate ethical codes would make a positive difference. One concern is that women may not be more ethical, but merely more concerned with socially desirable/appropriate behavior.

In the wake of past corporate (Enron, WorldCom, etc.) and government ethical scandals (too numerous to mention), the question arises, would things be different if there were more women leaders? Certainly, women have also been implicated in ethical scandals (e.g., Martha Stewart), but the numbers are few [as are the percentages of high-level women leaders].

The issue of gender differences in leadership is a “hot button” issue. There is some emerging evidence that suggests that women may have certain advantages in leadership, particularly for today’s workplace that demands that leaders have strong emotional and social skills (women tend to have an advantage). There is also some evidence that women have more transformational leadership qualities than do men.

However, this post is about gender and ethical leader behavior. Research suggests that women are more sensitive to ethical issues than are men (although there are some findings that suggest that there are no differences in the ethical sensitivity of men and women business executives). Women are also more likely to believe that corporate ethical codes would make a positive difference. One concern is that women may not be more ethical, but merely more concerned with socially desirable/appropriate behavior.

So what is the bottom line? A first step for ethical leader behavior is being sensitive to ethical issues and dilemmas. Women do seem to have an advantage, but it is likely that women learn and develop this sensitivity. The hope is that all leaders, men and women, can learn to be more sensitive to and alert for possible ethical violations. Organizational codes of ethics can help, and fostering an ethical organizational climate is important.

Conclusion.

It’s quite conceivable to suggest women appear more ethical than men in the business world if you relate it to their higher inclination towards positive social behaviour  and fairness. But experience also suggest when the incentives are there women will also, just like their male counterparts, ignore fairness and emulative societal norms. Incentives are the most powerful tool that drives human behaviour to me and as such the way it is dangled to us will determine our economic behaviour.

Take the case of Mrs Ibru, former Oceanic Bank MD…who having built a very strong institution from the scratch ended up falling for common incentives such as ownership of expensive properties and assets which she ostensibly funded with depositors money. What about former Minister of Health Prof Adenike Grange who in 2008 oversaw the sharing of N300million of tax payers money by her directors which otherwise should have been returned to the National coffers. According to unconfirmed reports at the time she was misadvised by her directors not to return the money as that was the usual procedure in the ministry. She then further instructed them to share the money to everyone in the ministry rather than the directors. Had she not approved that the money be shared to the everyone maybe the directors may have just shared it alone and the case will be closed.

That on its own is an example of incentives mixed with socially desirable behaviour.

What are your thoughts?

(Source: Ugometrics, Psychologytoday)

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