Men Not as Ethical as Women, Lessons for Attorneys in Ethics

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on April 11, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a recent interview on NPR, Shankar Vedantam shared a theory on why men outnumber women in business school, and eventually later in the c-suite. And, surprisingly, it may have to do with ethics -- or the lack thereof.

Vedantam spoke with Professor Laura Cray, of the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business, and discussed a few studies she conducted regarding the gender gap in ethical considerations and negotiations. In her studies, she's made two findings, "What I found is firstly that men tend to have more lenient ethical standards than women, and secondly, that negotiators are more likely to tell a blatant lie to a female counterpart than a male counterpart."

Ok, I can hear it coming: "What does this have to do with us? We're in law school." Or, "we're lawyers, not MBAs." What does this have to do with you? Everything -- here's why.

We're Bound by a Code of Ethics

As lawyers we are bound by a code of professional conduct -- our profession rests on the premise of ethical behavior. So, if men have a tendency to be more lenient with ethical standards that is something worth noting. No we're not pointing fingers, but since we all (men and women) work in a profession where ethics is paramount, take a second to re-think things and make sure you are taking the right course of action.

We Negotiate

Whether you are a transactional, or litigation attorney, at some point in your career you will negotiate. If you are a woman, then you should know that some people won't have a problem lying to you. Is that right? No, but wouldn't you rather know up front and find a way to get to the truth, or find out after the fact, or worse, never at all?

Last week we wrote about the trend of women becoming Chief Compliance Officers, and in light of these studies, that's not very surprising. The takeaway from this is not to accuse men of poor ethics, and not to tell women that the way to success is to not be as ethical. Rather, it's a starting place to see how things actually work in the market place. With that information in hand, we can proceed with caution, and still make the right, ethical decisions.

Will these findings change the way you practice law? Let us know @FindLawLP on Twitter.

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