You know that little tug you get in your chest when something at work is feeling a little wrong? A little...unethical? According to a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review, if you're a woman, chances are you know exactly what I'm talking about. In a study of 65 women and 38 men done by Wharton's Jessica Kennedy and Haas's Laura Kray, women were far more likely than their male counterparts to express outrage when faced with unethical business scenarios. Scenarios included systematically and publically demeaning a star subordinate to dull his shine, and using a cheap but potentially lethal allergen in a product to save costs and achieve your financial goal. In fact, Kennedy and Kray discovered that women were also less likely to be attracted to jobs which required them to make unethical decisions or work for corporations with a history of unethical business practices.
But what to do if you encounter an ethically-questionable situation at work? Say something and risk appearing disagreeable? The answer is yes! In the same research roundup of women in the workplace, the Harvard Business Review also notes that appearing less likeable as we rise up through the ranks is not the black mark we think it is. In fact, according to a study by scholars from Cornell, Notre Dame, and Ivey Business School, disagreeable people (of both genders) consistently earned more than agreeable people. Those employees that became more agreeable over time also saw a decline in pay.
Despite the fact that these two studies are totally independent of one another, I can't help but see the two as partners. If it's true that we as women experience more outrage over unethical business practices than our male counterparts, does that mean we are more likely to work to change these business practices, leading the way to creating a more ethically-minded corporate culture? And if being disagreeable isn't such a bad thing as we as women have always been taught, doesn't standing up for ethics become a bit easier? Doesn't standing up in general become a bit easier when you're not worried about being unlikeable but rather worried about what matters?