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Men are more likely to make ethical compromises to get ahead, study finds
All is fair in love and business
Men looking to hit the top floor may be more comfortable using unscrupulous means to get there.  
Men looking to hit the top floor may be more comfortable using unscrupulous means to get there.   (Thinkstock)
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t's commonly understood that men enjoy more upward mobility in business, particularly in upper management. But that competitive edge may have more to do with their sense of morality than gender discrimination. So suppose researchers Jessica A. Kennedy of the University of Pennsylvania and Laura J. Kray of the University of California, Berkeley, in a new study.

Participants were asked to rate their reactions to a variety of ethically dubious situations, such as subtly undermining a talented but ambitious subordinate or doing whatever it takes to win a bonus. Women, on average, reported stronger negative reactions and less perceived business savvy than their male counterparts. Women were also less interested in hypothetical job descriptions that involved ethical compromises or that valued profits at the expense of moral integrity.

As Kennedy and Kray explained in the study:

As hypothesized, women experienced more moral outrage and perceived less business sense than men when confronting ethical compromises made for either monetary or social status gains. [Pew Research]

Existing research already suggests that women tend to be more collaborative and cooperative in business while men tend to be more competitive. These tendencies could influence workers' attitudes about self-advancement at the expense of their peers.

The findings may also reflect a double standard of moral integrity for men and women that has persisted for generations. Women tend to experience more guilt than men, which may influence their strong dislike of ethically questionable situations.

It is important to note, however, that the study doesn't reveal men are all for unethical behavior. They also rated the situations negatively — just not as negatively as their female counterparts.

Monica Nickelsburg is a digital producer for TheWeek.com. She has previously worked for Transient Pictures, The Daily Beast, NBC, and Forbes. Follow her @mnickelsburg.

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