Men, women and ethical leadership

Male and female leaders approach their jobs the same way, but the workplace ethics environment is tougher for women according to a study of gender in the workplace.

The study Men, Women and Ethical Leadership by the Ethics Research Centre was primarily designed to examine the role of gender in ethics leadership and was based on employee perceptions of their leaders. It identified very real differences in the workplace ethics environment for men and women.

Key findings

  • Men and women in business leadership roles approach their jobs in similar ways and are about equally committed to ethics in the workplace, but female leaders and women employees at all levels face much greater ethics risks than their male counterparts.
  • Male and female leaders generally shared the same priorities: a) maintaining integrity in the company, b) meeting business goals even at the expense of ethics standards and c) treating all employees fairly and with dignity.
  • When asked how their leaders dealt with crises, employees credited female leaders with a somewhat greater concern for employee well-being, while male leaders were believed to be slightly more concerned about protecting the brand and maintaining employees’ trust.

Women, including female leaders, are more likely to feel pressured to compromise ethics standards. Female employees also are more likely to experience retaliation for reporting workplace misconduct. These differences appear to have eroded trust among women as they are far more skeptical than their male colleagues about leadership’s commitment to workplace integrity. That skepticism is evident whether leaders are male or female.