Are women more ethical leaders?
By: Rebecca Barnett
In the past year we have seen much speculation in the press that women are inherently more ethical than men. While it is tempting to think that women are more apt to blow the whistle on misconduct,
In the past year we have seen much speculation in the press that women are inherently more ethical than men. While it is tempting to think that women are more apt to blow the whistle on misconduct, my research from over 100 interviews with business
In the past year we have seen much speculation in the press that women are inherently more ethical than men. While it is tempting to think that women are more apt to blow the whistle on misconduct, my research from over 100 interviews with business leaders showed no gender differences. I found instead that integrity is driven by a strong sense of who you are, what you believe and what you stand for.
My interest in leadership integrity began three years ago with one burning question: Is it possible for ordinary business men and women to lead with honor? As a judo athlete I witnessed a great deal of courage and honor in competition. But I was often disappointed in my corporate career.
As the gap grew larger between my corporate and competitive life, I decided to find out. I spent two years conducting a literature review. I found a great deal written on the importance of business values, and many statistical studies on the benefits of organizational integrity, but very little on living and leading by a personal code of honor.
I began interviewing a small circle of executives whom I had admired for years for their leadership and integrity. These are ordinary people living quiet lives, trying to make sense of our new business environment and hold fast to their principles. They shared their stories of success and failure. As I interviewed Olympians from my sport, they told me of years of sweat and sacrifice.
In studying the business leaders’ and athletes’ life lessons and hard won wisdom, I learned that by living and leading with honor, you can make a great difference in your life, your children’s lives and the lives of those you lead.
The white hot economy of the late 1990s put profits ahead of people, putting those same people under tremendous pressure to do things they normally would not do to meet quarterly targets. Any miss in earnings per share by even a penny resulted in Wall Street’s swift, sure punishment. As all of the recent fraud and accounting scandals have shown, it isn’t a faceless organization doing wrong, it is individuals within their organizations making mistakes in a misguided attempt to please their bosses and Wall Street.
The responsibility for organizational integrity must start with the organization’s framework and end with individual accountability, because doing the right thing always comes down to the individual.
Inez, (a pseudonym) says, “You have to make a decision and stand up for what you believe.” Inez found out that she and several other women in the department were paid far less than the men were paid. She brought it to management’s attention and asked them to correct the inequity. Inez refused an offer of equal pay just for herself “I wanted to include all who have been done wrong,” she says. Her assistant told her, “They’ll crucify you for this,” but Inez stood up for what she believed through ugly repercussion and being pegged as a troublemaker. “My stand was unpopular but it was in the best interests of the company. I damaged my position. I never would have advanced, but I got raises for the women who were grossly underpaid. I would do it again. It was not right – it was ethically and morally wrong. I could not fight just for myself,” she says.
Doing what is right is not always rewarded. Inez eventually left the company, realizing her career there had ended. Still, she doesn’t regret her decision. Former employees still call to thank her.
Inez made a dramatic statement with her stand. She made a lasting impression on the people she led. By fighting for her people and operating from her core values, Inez redefined success on her terms. She knows what it is like to win, your way.
About the Author
A former executive at The Home Depot and The Limited, Rebecca Barnett is the author of Winning Without Losing Your Way, Character-Centered Leadership. She speaks to businesses on increasing productivity, morale and loyalty through character in leadership. She can be reached at (270) 843-6994 or online at www.winningyourway.com or Rebecca@winningyourway.com