Can women make the business world more ethical? Does the corporate world want to be more ethical?
It has been suggested that the inclusion of more women in positions of power in business and politics will make the world a better place to live because women will work in a more ethical way. This idea posits that women’s decisions on how to run a business or country would ensure that people would be put before profits (or at least given equal consideration). This idea has become so pervasive in the last decade that it seems to be equally accepted by both men and women as an indisputable fact. Unlike many areas of women’s rights, we are not just mouthing platitudes but have been acting on this ‘fact’ for at least two decades. Many countries have quotas for women on their boards, girls in high school and college are enthusiastically encouraged to take courses in male dominated industries and Equal Employment Opportunities have done much to ease women’s entry into the workplace en masse. But are we seeing any significant changes to the way business is done? Are we reaping the rewards promised from more female inclusion? Or is it still just business as usual?
The most recent proponent of the idea of women being the ethical business leaders is Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook, who has given space in her wonderful bestselling book ‘Lean In’ to discuss this subject. Also Hilary Clinton has gone on record many times about how she believes including more women in politics will change things for the better. Countless other people in have repeated some version of “Get more women running things and the world will be a better place”. This suggests to me that women may be engaging in some self righteous pontificating about the moral superiority of the ‘fairer sex’. Do we really believe that men don’t consider the ethical implications of what they do for a living and how they treat the people they deal with while earning their living? Is it fair to suggest that all working men are cold and heartless? Or is it fairer to suggest that maybe they have been brutalised by a brutal system and have been forced to conform in order to provide for themselves and their families? If this is true then what makes the average woman so sure that she can change the system for the better when countless men before her have failed?.
Why aren’t there more women in high powered positions? Many think that it is because women have to behave like a cold, hard, power driven man in order to succeed in business and many other areas of commerce. Many women have said that they have turned down promotions because they do not want to make the personal, ethical and health sacrifices that are required to ‘make it at the top’. In other words they don’t want to become ‘selfish bastards’ like the men at the top. So, let’s look at the suggestion that men are not capable of creating a profitable system that also helps to create a better society because they are selfish bastards who don’t care. So what does it mean if the average working man is a heartless, brutal person who happily sacrifices everything in order to become wealthy? If men don’t question the system, but consider it to be a ‘game’ with winners and losers and derive enjoyment out of beating the competition at any cost then it seems as though no matter how many women enter the workforce, how well educated they are or how hard they work, they will never be promoted to the top jobs because they are not willing to sacrifice their ethics on the altar of ‘Big business’. Even if a few women manage to reach the top without selling out their basic human principals they are still going to be in the minority and therefore will not be able to implement any positive changes.
Please understand that I don’t want to take a doom and gloom attitude about this very important issue. I think that before we can make any progress on getting the right answer, we must first ask the right questions. It is important to examine the veracity of the claim that women do business fairer. There are plenty of reasons why women should be included in the upper strata of business and politics. But are we pushing a good cause for the wrong reasons?
Next we need to know how the average man sees business practices today. Does the cut throat competition that could see his competitor lose his or her job and livelihood bother him? If his unethical business practices led to his rival losing their job and their rivals family having to live on the streets would this bother him or would he shrug it off and say ‘well that’s just the way it goes’. Do they think about these things at all? Most men I know, when they talk about business refer to it as a ‘game’ and the prevailing attitude seems to be that ‘if you can’t play with the big boys then get off the field’. Strangely most of them don’t seem so blasé when the ‘big boys’ are coming after them. The obvious problem with considering work as a ‘game’ is that it very clearly isn’t one. The ability to hold a job means that you can keep a roof over your head, put food on the table and give your kids an education, in other words provide the basics of survival. When you interfere with another person’s ability to do this can you really be considered to be playing a game? If women have figured this out then isn’t it likely that men have also? This leads to the second question…
If the majority of men are concerned about the way that business is conducted today then the next question needs to be “Why aren’t they trying to change things?” Is the system set up in a way that routinely weeds out anyone who is considered “weak”? By weak I don’t mean lazy or stupid or incompetent, arguably these people need to be weeded out or the business as a whole suffers. “Weak” in this case means someone who cares, who can show emotion in a reasonable way and who refuses to leave their humanity at the door of their workplace. If the average man (or indeed woman) finds that they have to behave in a way that makes them uncomfortable in order to keep their jobs and be promoted, and they would like the system to change in a positive way, then perhaps this discussion shouldn’t be about gender but about how the workers at all levels can unite to bring about positive change in their organisations.
A lot of time, money and effort are being put into including women in the upper levels of business and politics and one of the main reasons is the belief that women will transform the world into a wonderful place. But will this really happen? If the majority of men are perfectly happy with the business worlds status quo and have no desire to see the worst aspects of the system changed then I am afraid that women fighting for equal representation in the business and political world have a long, terribly hard battle ahead. But if the majority of men believe that the worst aspects of the business world need to be changed so that the individual does not have to make life destroying sacrifices in order to get ahead, then the inclusion of women in all levels of the workforce may provide the forum for the voices of concerned men and women to be heard. But first we need to hear from the men. This is your invitation to have your say.