In the wake of past corporate (Enron, WorldCom, etc.) and government ethical scandals (too numerous to mention), the question arises, would things be different if there were more women leaders? Certainly, women have also been implicated in ethical scandals (e.g., Martha Stewart), but the numbers are few [as are the percentages of high-level women leaders].

The issue of gender differences in leadership is a “hot button” issue. There is some emerging evidence that suggests that women may have certain advantages in leadership, particularly for today’s workplace that demands that leaders have strong emotional and social skills (women tend to have an advantage). There is also some evidence that women have more transformational leadership qualities than do men. You can read about gender and leadership in my previous posts (and the comments are interesting, as well).

However, this post is about gender and ethical leader behavior. Research suggests that women are more sensitive to ethical issues than are men (although there are some findings that suggest that there are no differences in the ethical sensitivity of men and women business executives). Women are also more likely to believe that corporate ethical codes would make a positive difference. One concern is that women may not be more ethical, but merely more concerned with socially desirable/appropriate behavior.

So what is the bottom line? A first step for ethical leader behavior is being sensitive to ethical issues and dilemmas. Women do seem to have an advantage, but it is likely that women learn and develop this sensitivity. The hope is that all leaders, men and women, can learn to be more sensitive to and alert for possible ethical violations. Organizational codes of ethics can help, and fostering an ethical organizational climate is important.

What are your thoughts?


Dalton, D., & Ortegren, M. (2011). Gender differences in ethics research: The importance of controlling fo the social desirability response bias. Journal of Business Ethics, 103, 73-93.

Ibrahim, N., Angelidis, J., & Tomic, I.M. (2009). Managers’ attitudes toward codes of ethics: Are there gender differences. Journal of Business Ethics, 90, 343-353.

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