Laura J. Kray of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jessica A. Kennedy of the University of Pennsylvania said they propose women, more than men, find ethical compromises unacceptable.
Ethical compromises may be especially prevalent in business organizations because the primary goal in business is to produce profit, a secular value. Many business executives feel obligated to compromise their values to advance their careers and achieve company goals.
Although all careers may involve ethical compromises to some extent, the profit motive distinguishes business from other fields, such as law and medicine, which also have ethical values, such as justice and health, as underlying justifications, the researchers said.
In one study, the researchers found when reading decisions that compromised ethical values for social status and monetary gains, women reported feeling more moral outrage and perceived less business sense in the decisions than men.
In the second study, the researchers established a causal relationship between aversion to ethical compromises and disinterest in business careers by manipulating the presence of ethical compromises in job descriptions.
In the third study, Kray and Kennedy found women implicitly associated business with immorality more than men did.
"Women's relatively strong implicit association between business and immorality may explain why they are underrepresented in business careers," the study said.
The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.