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Does a ‘care orientation’ explain gender differences in ethical decision making? A critical analysis and fresh findings

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Over the past two decades there has been a great deal of research conducted into the question of gender differences in ethical decision making in organisations. Much of this has been based on questionnaire surveys, typically asking respondents (often students, sometimes professionals) to judge the moral acceptability of actions as described in short cases or vignettes. Overall the results seem inconclusive, although what differences have been noted tend to show women as ‘more ethical’ than men. The authors of this paper believe that attention should be paid to the insight, from Carol Gilligan and others, that women are more inclined than men to subscribe to an ‘ethic of care’, and that once this perspective is adopted a pattern is discernible. In a critical examination of previous research we pay particular attention to the detailed content of cases used in surveys, and the statistical analysis of findings. We advocate greater reflection on the results of quantitative surveys and sensitivity to different possible interpretations of findings. This we do with our own exploratory study, conducted with UK undergraduate students of accounting, the findings from which seem to support the original hypothesis that where a ‘care’ orientation is invited, women do indeed react differently to business ethics issues than do men.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Principal Lecturer, School of Accountancy and Financial Services, Faculty of Business and Law, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK; 2: Emeritus Fellow, Centre for Management and Organisational Learning, The Business School, University of Hull, Hull, UK.

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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