Does Gender Raise the Ethical Bar? Exploring the Punishment of Ethical Violations at Work

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SSRN Electronic Journal

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Kennedy, Jessica A.; McDonnell, Mary-Hunter ; Stephens, Nicole M.
Elsevier BV
Gender; Ethical Violations; Punishment; Stereotypes
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article description
We investigate whether women are targets of more severe punishment than men following ethical violations at work. Using an experimental design, Study 1 finds evidence that ethical behavior is more strongly prescribed for women than for men, even when they occupy an identical professional role. Study 2 manipulates the gender of a manager in a hypothetical scenario and finds that women are punished more severely than men for ethical violations at work. It also tests the scope of our theory by asking whether women are punished more for errors in general, or only for intentional ethical violations. Using field data, Study 3 examines how severely attorneys are punished for violating the American Bar Association’s ethical rules. Female attorneys are punished more severely than male attorneys, after accounting for a variety of factors. Greater representation of women among decision-makers diminishes the gender disparity in punishment. Our research documents a new prescriptive stereotype faced by women and helps to explain the persistence of gender disparities in organizations. It highlights punishment severity as a novel mechanism by which institutions may derail women’s careers more than men’s.