Does Gender Raise the Ethical Bar? Exploring the Punishment of Ethical Violations at Work
Management Sciences and Quantitative Methods
We investigate whether women are targets of more severe punishment than men following ethical violations at work. Using a large sample of working adults, Study 1 finds that ethical behavior is more strongly prescribed for women than for men. Women face intensified ethical prescriptions, relative to a gender-neutral person. Study 2 experimentally tests whether women are punished more severely than men. Study 2 also tests the scope of our theory by asking whether women are punished more for errors in general, or only for ethical violations. Study 3 examines our effect in the field by examining 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. Study 3 also provides evidence that the gender make-up of the decision-making group that allots punishment serves to moderate the extent of discriminatory punishments. When a larger percentage of women sat on the judges’ panels overseeing attorney disciplinary hearings, disparities in allotted punishment between men and women were smaller. Our research documents a new prescriptive stereotype faced by women and helps to explain gender disparities in organizations. It highlights punishment severity as a novel mechanism by which institutions derail women’s careers more than men’s.