A Philosopher's Blog

Men, Women, Business & Ethics

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on April 14, 2014
Journal of Business Ethics

Journal of Business Ethics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On 4/9/2014 NPR did a short report on the question of why there are fewer women in business than men. This difference begins in business school and, not surprisingly, continues forward. The report focused on an interesting hypothesis: in regards to ethics, men and women differ.

While people tend to claim that lying is immoral, both men and woman are more likely to lie to a woman when engaged in negotiation. The report also mentioned a test involving an ethical issue. In this scenario, the seller of a house does not want it sold to someone who will turn the property into a condo. However, a potential buyer wants to do just that. The findings were that men were more likely than women to lie to sell the house.

It was also found that men tend to be egocentric in their ethical reasoning. That is, if the man will be harmed by something, then it is regarded as unethical. If the man benefits, he is more likely to see it as a grey area. So, in the case of the house scenario, a man representing the buyer would tend to regard lying to the seller as acceptable—after all, he would thus get a sale. However, a man representing the seller would be more likely to regard being lied to as unethical.

In another test of ethics, people were asked about their willingness to include an inferior ingredient in a product that would hurt people but would allow a significant product. The men were more willing than the women to regard this as acceptable. In fact, the women tended to regard this sort of thing as outrageous.

These results provide two reasons why women would be less likely to be in business than men. The first is that men are apparently rather less troubled by unethical, but more profitable, decisions.  The idea that having “moral flexibility” (and getting away with it) provides advantage is a rather old one and was ably defended by Glaucon in Plato’s Republic. If a person with such moral flexibility needs to lie to gain an advantage, he can lie freely. If a bribe would serve his purpose, he can bribe. If a bribe would not suffice and someone needs to have a tragic “accident”, then he can see to it that the “accident” occurs. To use an analogy, a morally flexible person is like a craftsperson that has just the right tool for every occasion. Just as the well-equipped craftsperson has a considerable advantage over a less well equipped crafts person, the morally flexible person has a considerable advantage over those who are more constrained by ethics. If women are, in general, more constrained by ethics, then they would be less likely to remain in business because they would be at a competitive disadvantage. The ethical difference might also explain why women are less likely to go into business—it seems to be a general view that unethical activity is not uncommon in business, hence if women are generally more ethical than men, then they would be more inclined to avoid business.

It could be countered that Glaucon is in error and that being unethical (while getting away with it) does not provide advantages. Obviously, getting caught and significantly punished for unethical behavior is not advantageous—but it is not the unethical behavior that causes the problem. Rather, it is getting caught and punished. After all, Glaucon does note that being unjust is only advantageous when one can get away with it. Socrates does argue that being ethical is superior to being unethical, but he does not do so by arguing that the ethical person will have greater material success.

This is not to say that a person cannot be ethical and have material success. It is also not to say that a person cannot be ethically flexible and be a complete failure. The claim is that ethical flexibility provides a distinct advantage.

It could also be countered that there are unethical women and ethical men. The obvious reply is that this claim is true—it has not been asserted that all men are unethical or that all women are ethical. Rather, it seems that women are generally more ethical than men.

It might be countered that the ethical view assumed in this essay is flawed. For example, it could be countered that what matters is profit and the means to this end are thus justified. As such, using inferior ingredients in a medicine so as to make a profit at the expense of the patients would not be unethical, but laudable. After all, as Hobbes said, profit is the measure of right. As such, women might well be avoiding business because they are unethical on this view.

The second is that women are more likely to be lied to in negotiations. If true, this would certainly put women at a disadvantage in business negotiations relative to men since women would be more likely to be subject to attempts at deceit. This, of course, assumes that such deceit would be advantageous in negotiations. While there surely are cases in which deceit would be disadvantageous, it certainly seems that deceit can be a very useful technique.

If it is believed that having more women in business is desirable (which would not be accepted by everyone), then there seem to be two main options. The first is to endeavor to “cure” women of their ethics—that is, make them more like men. The second would be to endeavor to make business more ethical. This would presumably also help address the matter of lying to women.


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26 Responses

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  1. WTP said, on April 14, 2014 at 9:01 am

    It was also found that men tend to be egocentric in their ethical reasoning.

    Bingo. We have a winner.

  2. magus71 said, on April 14, 2014 at 10:06 am

    “As such, using inferior ingredients in a medicine so as to make a profit at the expense of the patients would not be unethical, but laudable. After all, as Hobbes said, profit is the measure of right.”

    I think you’ve often misconstrued Hobbes here. Only a dummy would sell products he knows will harm his patients or customers. In the long run, how much profit will he make? The return customer is essential to profit in business. Hobbes means real profit, not a street deal where a guy sells oregano to another who wants pot.

    I also believe that by profit, Hobbes means benefit or progress. It is actually a rather common sense assertion: If things get better, we are doing the right thing.

    I say you can’t be that successful in an open society by being evil.

    • WTP said, on April 14, 2014 at 10:12 am

      In other words, for what does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul.

    • magus71 said, on April 14, 2014 at 10:16 am

      Have to amend this a bit. You can be successful in an open society by being evil: Mexican Drug Cartels for instance. But in that case the cartels have become the equal of government in that they possess a near monopoly on violence.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 14, 2014 at 5:16 pm

      I think I have Hobbes right.

      Actually killing customers is bad for profits. However, there is money to be made selling drugs that are harmful. See http://www.drugwatch.com/dangerous-drugs.php for numerous examples.

      The idea that bad products will result in the failure of a business is classic free market theory, but it does not hold true in many cases.

      Do you consider Obama, Clinton, Pelosi, and other top Democrats evil? Are they not successful?

      • WTP said, on April 14, 2014 at 5:53 pm

        Napoleon was successful too…until that summer day in 1815. But then he successfully escaped. He was successful. But then he got sent on a longer trip. Timing. It’s everything in life.

        You’re simply being disingenuous, as is your wont. The subject is business and you’ve twisted it into politics. Is that ethical? A business that knowingly sells defective products to end consumers faces consequences in our society. You’re just spouting BS.

      • magus71 said, on April 15, 2014 at 12:41 am

        “but it does not hold true in many cases.”

        Can you give examples? How long do they last? The best I can think of is soda companies and cigarettes. Still, many people are completely aware of the repercussions of the overuse of both.

        Don’t you think there’s far more examples of companies constantly trying to make their product better?

      • magus71 said, on April 15, 2014 at 12:52 am

        I really do think you’re wrong and should reconsider. Hobbes prefaces this statement with “in the state of nature”.

        I do not think he was speaking merely of the mercantile trades. He was saying that results are declarative of the quality of actions taken.

      • magus71 said, on April 15, 2014 at 12:53 am

        Yes, “they” are successful. The country under their leadership? Not so much? Complex systems often muddle generalized ideas.

  3. apollonian said, on April 14, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Mike: this was one of ur absolute worst essays, buddy. So what was it really supposed to be about?–ethics? Ethics is just logic btwn ends and means. Playing men off against women, according to ZOG’s program?–a report about some idiotic poll?

    Mike forget about ur poor students–just look at what thought-control is doing to U–u’re getting dumber and dumber at an alarming rate, eh?

  4. T. J. Babson said, on April 14, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Mike, can you confirm that the people studied were all business school students and probably not representative of society at large?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 14, 2014 at 6:30 pm

      That is a good point-people who go into business could differ in relevant ways from the general population. For example, people who place a high value on money would be more inclined to go into business school as opposed to less lucrative majors. This value system could impact the broader ethical value system.

      • magus71 said, on April 15, 2014 at 12:45 am

        The fact that they are liars may have an impact in whether a company hires them or keeps them employed. Good point TJ. Male college students may be among the most untruthful populations in America.

    • wtp said, on April 14, 2014 at 9:32 pm

      TJ, let me get this straight. Mike takes a study of business school STUDENTS via story by a business hating organization like NPR and extrapolates that out to actual businessmen and women? Meanwhile, scandals abound in academe from professors making stuff up from their own facts to fabricating hate crimes, caving in to threats of violence from students, disinviting speakers due to threats from Islamists, etc. etc. etc. Despicable.

      • magus71 said, on April 15, 2014 at 12:42 am

        I’d say male students are by and large more likely to lie than most people. Check out the stats on cheating.

      • apollonian said, on April 15, 2014 at 2:49 pm

        “[T]hreats fm Islamists…”?–this is blatant, brainless, idiotic lie. Real Islamists or geniune anti-semites would get visited immediately by cops and/or swat-teams in matter of hrs. The only public “threats” ever come fm u Jews, and then nothing happens fm the cops for obvious reasons.

        • apollonian said, on April 15, 2014 at 3:06 pm

          ZOG Is The Main Terrorist, Without Any Doubt–Evermore People Becoming Aware

          Indeed, and u can ck it all out–all the “famous” (ho ho ho) “Islamic terrorists” are found, ALWAYS, in reality, to be Jews or working for Jews, including Osama bin Laden–same as w. present Adam Gadahn. The 9/11 hi-jackers were all run by CIA and FBI, followed and tracked by MOSSAD, deliberately given passports by US State dept.–even when the state dept. employees on the spot objected for the obvious reasons.

          The “underwear bomber” at Detroit airport, Christmas 2009, was directly assisted by State dept. employee, which incident ushered-in the worthless and harmful irradiating “detection” machines owned by Jew, Chertoff.

          “Terrorism” is wholly-owned and controlled Jew enterprise, evermore people are becoming aware everyday, meant to consolidate ZOG and UN dictatorship–like the recent sniper-killings in Ukraine–like the “poison-gas” attacks done by ZOG/Israel -controlled terrorists in Syria.

          Islam is the VICTIM, all this manipulated and contrived by ZOG and Jew world order–facts are becoming evermore clear in people’s minds–and that’s why ZOG is pushing for war now w. no less than Russia and China, eh?–ZOG needs a war, evermore desperately.

  5. WTP said, on April 15, 2014 at 8:54 am

    You know, Mike’s right. These educators are damn good at their jobs relative to the evil rich business people. Take California for example:

    Larry Sand on children’s education versus teachers’ job security:

    In the last ten years, only 91 teachers out of about 300,000 (.003 percent) who have attained ‘permanence’ [tenure] lost their jobs in California. Of those, only 19 (.0007 percent) have been dismissed for poor performance. Is it possible that Golden State teachers are that good? Such an astronomical permanence rate doesn’t square with the performance of California’s fourth- and eighth-graders, whose scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests persistently rank near the bottom.

    from http://www.city-journal.org/2014/cjc0411ls.html
    via http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2014/04/elsewhere-119.html

  6. T. J. Babson said, on April 15, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Mike, what say you? I am partial to this view because it meshes nicely with my animus against “elite” institutions like McKinsey who only hire from “elite” schools like Harvard.

    The recent scandals at Barclays Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other banks might give the impression that the financial sector has some serious morality problems. Unfortunately, it’s worse than that: We are dealing with a drop in ethical standards throughout the business world, and our graduate schools are partly to blame.

    Consider, for example, the revelations about two top executives at the elite consulting firm McKinsey & Co., which has avoided public vilification despite the transgressions of its former employees. McKinsey director Anil Kumar, — a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — pleaded guilty to providing insider information to hedge-fund manager and fellow Wharton alumnus Raj Rajaratnam. Rajat Gupta, a graduate of Harvard Business School who served for nine years as McKinsey’s worldwide managing director, was convicted of insider trading in the same case.

    Although Gupta had long left McKinsey when the actions leading to his conviction took place, it would be shortsighted not to take the problem seriously. While every firm can have its bad apples, when these bad apples are at the top, it suggests that a company has either a corrupt culture or a defective selection process, or both. This is particularly troubling at a company like McKinsey, which cites the integrity and quality of its consultants as key advantages. “Keep our client information confidential” is one of its credos, proudly displayed on its website.

    Where did Gupta, Kumar and others get the idea that this kind of behavior might be OK? Most business schools do offer ethics classes. Yet these classes are generally divided into two categories. Some simply illustrate ethical dilemmas without taking a position on how people are expected to act. It is as if students were presented with the pros and cons of racial segregation, leaving them to decide which side they wanted to take.

    Others hide behind the concept of corporate social responsibility, suggesting that social obligations rest on firms, not on individuals. I say “hide” because a firm is nothing but an organized group of individuals. So before we talk about corporate social responsibility, we need to talk about individual social responsibility. If we do not recognize the latter, we cannot talk about the former.
    Economics and Greed

    Oddly, most economists see their subject as divorced from morality. They liken themselves to physicists, who teach how atoms do behave, not how they should behave. But physicists do not teach to atoms, and atoms do not have free will. If they did, physicists would and should be concerned about how the atoms being instructed could change their behavior and affect the universe. Experimental evidence suggests that the teaching of economics does have an effect on students’ behavior: It makes them more selfish and less concerned about the common good. This is not intentional. Most teachers are not aware of what they are doing.

    My colleague Gary Becker pioneered the economic study of crime. Employing a basic utilitarian approach, he compared the benefits of a crime with the expected cost of punishment (that is, the cost of punishment times the probability of receiving that punishment). While very insightful, Becker’s model, which had no intention of telling people how they should behave, had some unintended consequences. A former student of Becker’s told me that he found many of his classmates to be remarkably amoral, a fact he took as a sign that they interpreted Becker’s descriptive model of crime as prescriptive. They perceived any failure to commit a high-benefit crime with a low expected cost as a failure to act rationally, almost a proof of stupidity. The student’s experience is consistent with the experimental findings I mentioned above.


    • magus71 said, on April 15, 2014 at 10:24 am


      I’ve heard that many bosses in bigger companies are now shying away from elite Ivy League types. They’d prefer someone from Oklahoma State University who’s worked hard his whole life and has no sense of entitlement.

      • WTP said, on April 15, 2014 at 10:39 am

        In our staff meeting yesterday my boss said we may be getting back to hiring more younger fresh-from college people. He mentioned UCF and Free Sail University specifically. No mention of FAMU (or UF for that matter), not that I think either would be ruled out but given Mike’s rants about FS, I found that rather amusing.

        • magus71 said, on April 15, 2014 at 10:41 am

          Why do they want to go back to hiring younger people? Was there a specific reason?

          • WTP said, on April 15, 2014 at 11:04 am

            We’ve had a hiring freeze on for a while with projects closing down and newer projects simply absorbing the in-house veterans. The excuse is they want a mix of talent. Part of it is the young work cheaper. That’s a bit cynical but I’d be naive to say it’s not a factor. Though we do tend to promote them and give decent raises as they prove themselves. Or so I understand reading between the lines of what the younger people tell me. Problem is we lose many younger people to more hip/trendy technologies such that in the past we needed to hire more of them due to attrition. OTOH, they bring in an understanding of the hip/trendy technologies. But hip/trendy is a double-edged sword. I think it’s good overall, but I see why some younger people leave after getting a couple years experience. Funny thing is, looking back to when I was their age I’d have been ecstatic to be in this environment, technology-wise. But it’s completely understandable given that the industry as a whole is far more dynamic. Also, when you’re younger and more idealistic the grass always seems greener elsewhere. And sometimes it is.

      • T. J. Babson said, on April 15, 2014 at 6:04 pm

        I’ve heard that many bosses in bigger companies are now shying away from elite Ivy League types. They’d prefer someone from Oklahoma State University who’s worked hard his whole life and has no sense of entitlement.

        This would be a smart move.

  7. apollonian said, on April 15, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Wake-Up Morons: Criminality, Corruption, And Crap Is Practically Official Program

    U poor, ignorant fools: CRIMINALITY and genocidal mass-murder is the nearly EXPLICIT policy of ZOG and United Nations, Jew world order. We know all about Jews–how they now lead “Christians” by the very nose–by this time, eh? But lately, we observe those special, little sycophants and suck-alongs, the homosexuals, telling everyone what to do and where to go, eh?

    Ever hrd of the UN Agenda-21?–it’s a plan to exterminate most of the population of the world–it’s why there are so many poisonous drugs in the food and water supplies (like fluoride, aspartame, HFCS, and MSG, among others)–why the vaccines given and pushed-upon the population are deliberately poisonous–including the poisonous “chem-trails” spewed-out in the atmosphere every day for yrs now.

    Ever hrd of the US Federal Reserve Bank?–it’s literally legalized COUNTERFEITING, a criminal fraud and enterprise–it’s been going for over a hundred yrs now. Of course, Israeli mass-murder and “ethnic-cleansing” of Palestinians is passe’ to folks in USA, inured now over decades and decades.

    Ck http://www.alternet.org/economy/whats-wrong-wells-fargo, whence Wells Fargo/Wachovia was caught laundering HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS of dollars of drug-money–they were slapped then w. a paltry hundred million-dollar fine, ho ho ho hoo ho. Crime and criminality PAYS big-time in Spenglerian “Decline of the West,” suckers.

    Ever hrd of LIBOR scandal? Big banks are not only “too big to fail,” but also to prosecute–as admitted by the AG, Holder, a foremost criminal, we note, now under contempt citation fm US Congress–but Holder isn’t worried, ho ho ho. And this fore-going doesn’t even begin to cover the present Fukushima nuke disaster, thousands of times more destructive than Chernobyl, brilliantly covered-over by the Jews-media of USA.

    Criminality on MASS-SCALE is what prevails, pervades, and reigns SUPREME when the stupid, over-populated goyim are persuaded of their “moral virtue,” the dumb, stupid scum–and it will continue long as US Dollar holds as reserve-currency and ZOG is afforded the bread & circuses social policy as we see continuing merrily along. U idiots think Spengler was just joking?–it’s “Decline of the West,” in ur brainless, moronic faces, scum.

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