Home > finance, modeling > Lean in to what?

Lean in to what?

December 30, 2013

Women are underrepresented in businesses like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase, especially in the upper management. Why is that?

Many women never go into finance in the first place, and of course some of them do go in but leave. Why are they leaving, though? Is it because they don’t like success? Or they don’t like money? Are they forgetting to lean in sufficiently?

Here’s another possibility, which I dig. They’re less willing to sacrifice their ethics than their male colleagues for the sake of money and business success.

Last Friday I read this paper entitled Who Is Willing to Sacrifice Ethical Values for Money and Social Status?  Gender Differences in Reactions to Ethical Compromises and written by Jessica A. Kennedy and Laura J. Kray. It offers ethical distaste problems as at least one contributing reason we don’t see as many women as we might otherwise.

The paper

Please read the paper for details, I’m only giving a very brief overview without figures of statistical significance. They have three experiments.

First they saw who were interested in jobs that had major ethical compromises. Turns out that women were way less interested than men.

Second, to check whether that was because of the ethical compromises or because of the “job” part, they had different kinds of job descriptions and found that, in the presence of a culture of good ethics, women were just as interested in a job as men.

Third, they checked on the existing assumptions about the connection between ethics and various kinds of jobs, like the law, medicine, and “business”. Turns out woman associate compromised ethics with business but less so with law and medicine.

Conclusion: we can attribute some of the lack of women in business to a combination of assumed and real ethical compromises.

Some thoughts

First, I love that this paper was written by two women. Maybe that’s what it took for such an common sense idea to be tested.

Secondly, I think this paper should be kept in mind when we read things about how companies that are diverse are more successful. It’s probably because they are nice places to be that women and others are there, which in turn makes them more successful. It also explains why, when companies set out to be diverse, they often have so much trouble. They want to achieve diversity without changing their underlying culture.

Thirdly, I’m going to have to admit that men are under enormous pressure to succeed at all costs, which could explain why they’re more willing to become ethically compromised to be successful. That says something about our crazy expectations of men in this culture which I think we need to address. I say that as a mother of three sons.

Finally, whenever I hear someone talking about “leaning in” from now on, I will ask them, “lean in to what?”.

Categories: finance, modeling
  1. An igyt
    December 30, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Interesting article, but both you and the authors could be a bit less sanctimonious in your interpretation. Props for trying with the “enormous pressure” admission, but that still sounds like pity for a weakness, not real understanding.
    Understand this: my obligation to earn enough to enable my children to make what they can of life is a moral one. Every parent who is not born rich knows this. It is likely that among women there is a larger minority (or even a majority) who expect to be or are second earners, so that their moral obligations to family are discharged by childcare and salary is about luxuries. If that is the source of the difference, your phrasing is inaccurately derogatory towards half humanity.


    • Burton DeWilde
      December 30, 2013 at 9:45 am

      You concede that every parent’s moral obligation is to earn enough for their children to live and thrive, then in your next breath denigrate mothers with outmoded, anecdotal assumptions. This is a math blog — do you have numbers to go with “it is likely” and “larger majority”? Personally, I don’t need numbers to know that your assertion is bullshit.

      It sounds like you’re making excuses for men who abandon their morals in order to get slightly farther ahead in certain career tracks. But how should we define “success”? Is standing by one’s principles more successful than getting a promotion if the latter precludes the former?


  2. December 30, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Perceptive and appreciated reply from AI above and one to which I agree. MB, with three boys, do look up and get them to Boys to Men (and offshoot of the Mankind Project) as soon as possible. Or at least share Robert Bly’s Iron John as a priority. These have greatly helped my teenage son (and for that matter, their feminine equivalents have greatly helped my adopted teenage daughters, too). Indigenous cultures still haver much to teach us on the raising of children…

    And as both a skier and motocross rider, what one would lean in to is a turn; I see the metaphor as an attempt at equilibrium so momentum can be maintained, all good from my perspective.


    • cat
      December 30, 2013 at 11:11 am

      You lost me at Mankind Project. Any organization that says they have this knowledge that can only be shared in secret by initiates trained in “our ways” to maintain is effectiveness screams cult. That any they continue to use archaic male tropes. Men are warriors and should be heroes… Please…. if treating other people with respect and dignity requires constant battles and arduous journeys I want off this ride before it explodes.


  3. Mike Lawler
    December 30, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Per the comment on Twitter – “more broadly I think women are less enamored with ‘leaning in’ to zero sum games, ie you win only if someone else loses.”

    The book “Top Dog” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman spends a couple of chapters talking about this topic. Thought the whole book was a really interesting read.


  4. cat
    December 30, 2013 at 11:01 am

    An igyt :
    It is likely that among women there is a larger minority (or even a majority) who expect to be or are second earners, so that their moral obligations to family are discharged by childcare and salary is about luxuries.

    Whatever idea you are trying to communicate is lost by that comma…

    You are very out of touch with the economic lives of 80% of American. Families have two earners not for luxuries, unless you count adequate education and food that isnt slowly killing you, but out of necessities. Wages have been flat or decreasing for the bottom 75% of American for the last 30 years. While the costs of raising a child has increased if you believe in the “moral imperative” of allowing them every opportunity.

    You will find little evidence that 2nd earners are buying the luxury goods and more showing that 2nd earners are buying necessities or making up the costs of the middle class lifestyle. Assuming you look for evidence, most likely you are looking around you and assume your world represents everyone’s experience when its actually very isolated from the bottom 75% of America.


  5. December 30, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Lean-in to what, exactly. I’m all for personal responsibility, by the way. However, the data suggest that the problem is more of a societal one than a personal one, cf. Lean In Until You Fall Over, Ladies — You Still Won’t Find Gender Balance



  6. December 30, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Can we use this “women are more ethical” insight/belief to do prediction?

    EG, if you ranked companies by how ethical they are within a given industry, would it also correlate with the percentage of female employees?


    • December 31, 2013 at 8:44 am

      How would you rank those companies?


      • Dikaios Logos
        December 31, 2013 at 8:55 am

        Here’s an idea, put the companies into bins, maybe 3 or 5, by % female employees and then survey perceptions of the bins’ ethical standards (without explaining the groupings) by people who regularly look at companies’ ethicial behavior. Still very sloppy, but I worry most people are simply ignorant of how companies’ are able to advance themselves through bad behavior.


  7. Dikaios Logos
    December 30, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    I didn’t read the paper (no account) but it seems the title should have the word “job” in it. I know many unethical women in the workplace, but the odds of their being so for money, though not for power, seems much lower than with men. I think part of the reason is that men get a much bigger payoff from a higher paying job as their desirability and status increases more. Though I often wonder about the ethics of the women who are impressed by those guys…


    • Joshua
      January 3, 2014 at 4:26 am

      I found a freely available version of the paper at IRLE UC Berkeley:

      Click to access 124-12.pdf

      I have no guesses about how the final paper differs as I also don’t have a sage account.


  8. December 30, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    As a graduate of Berkeley’s School of Business (it wasn’t yet called Haas when I graduated) I was always disappointed by the low number of female students in the B-school and by the low number of female faculty members and have written to the dean(s) whenever I see 5 new faculty members announced, all male. Even the current faculty pictures at Haas present a false picture (pun intended). Alice Agogino is a MechE professor (who I hope would one day become an Engineering Dean at Cal or Stanford) Why is her picture presented as Haas faculty? To make the gender imbalance less obvious?

    But to the matter at hand, are they saying that being a B-School professor is an ethical challenge? Being a doctor, rather than a nurse, an ethical challenge? Perhaps many women (no, I cannot quantify that) choose jobs that don’t require 18 hour days such as at Goldman? Or they choose to be nurses so they can also be at home more than most doctors can?

    As for Wall Street, ignoring Scorcese’s latest movie, which is really about Long Island Boiler Rooms, rather than Wall Street, many women (and I’m not counting you, Cathy) do not want to be in an environment where loud flatulence is celebrated and where every second word is “fuck” or sentences begin with “Jesus Fucking Christ!”


    • archaeolover
      January 7, 2014 at 2:51 pm

      I am an archaeologist, currently in academia but have also been on the private side of Cultural Resource Management (and will probably be back there). It is filled with drinking, cussing, flatulence (by men, mainly), and gender stereotypes. And yet most field tech jobs are now at least 50% filled by women (I’d say there are still problems with getting more women in management positions, but that seems to be slowly changing as well). So I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that those are the reasons women avoid a job. If the cussing is aggressively directed at people, that might play into it, but I’d suggest that goes more into having an unpleasant work place rather than broad-based oh so delicate women being uncomfortable with people swearing out loud.


      • January 7, 2014 at 4:44 pm

        I agree with you. It’s a destructive environment, and recruiting has a lot to do with men hiring mirror images of themselves. Maybe Cathy can weigh in on this, although the hedge fund she worked at was considerably better than most i-banks.


        • January 7, 2014 at 4:47 pm

          What? I was the only female quant.


        • January 7, 2014 at 4:57 pm

          I thought Ann Dinning had returned by the time you were there, but I might be wrong. I don’t know if Suzy Hahn was still there and don’t remember if she was a quant or a trader. The numbers among quants were abysmal, but the environment, as bad as you think it was, was far better than at the i-banks where traders (not quants) are king and where outright misogyny often prevails. One guy who now runs a major converts shop would say things to the female accountant doing the p&l calcs, “it’s not sexist to say you are stupid,” and off she went crying. Or in another shop a female trader (sister of a famous TV personality) had shorted futures going into the 87 crash, just like her male counterparts. The female was said to be lucky. The male counterparts were said to be smart.


  9. Joshua
    January 3, 2014 at 4:54 am

    I agree wholeheartedly with the main premise that business success (or extreme business success) might require trade-offs that are individually unacceptable. I personally struggle a lot with a form of this scenario:

    I am about to hire someone and have two candidates. Candidate A is single-minded in a desire to succeed in my firm, will have no outside interests except things that contribute to work, will be available at all hours of the day and all days of the year, will be willing to do whatever is asked. Candidate B is willing to be conscientious and diligent, but has other interests and obligations. In 99% of the cases, I think I prefer A and believe other businesses will and should choose A, but I feel equally strongly that I want my children to be type B.

    The rest of these comments apply to the working paper I’ve linked above, so please correct me if the draft Cathy linked differs:

    I thought the ethical scenarios posed were interesting and spent some time reflecting on how I think about them now vs how I would have felt at the start of my career. I found this quite a rewarding bit of introspection and have encouraged others to do the same.

    Also, was surprised that I nearly always pictured the key decision maker to be male, but I can perhaps excuse that b/c I was intentionally thinking about how I would feel if I were facing the decision (not how I would feel if I were reading about someone else having made the decision).

    I can’t give a full critique of the methodology in the paper (for example, I don’t know the details of IAT or whether there are sample biases from Amazon Mechanical Turk), here are some observations:
    (1) scenarios were evaluated as to whether they were “disgusting, objectionable, upsetting, offensive, shameful, contemptible, morally acceptable”. The authors don’t explain how they phrased the question to be unbiased, but their phrasing in the paper has a clear bias.

    (2) The words chosen for business seem to be very focused on finance and miss some critical elements of business: customer, service, product.

    (3) “law” in aggregate, seems a class that is well represented by positive words (justice, rights) for me and, as a sample bias, US college students. However, many of the more vivid representatives of specific functions within the law (police, lawyer, filing, procedure, prison, fine) have negative connotations for me. “Business” as a class is so broad that I’d agree the common denominator is profit-seeking, but almost no non-financial business defines itself primarily as a profit-seeking entity and the vivid representatives of specific functions can often have quite positive connotations (again, speaking about non-financial businesses).

    An analogy (which I’ll agree is more extreme) would be to ask for relative associations between “birds” and “people.”


  10. Joshua
    January 6, 2014 at 9:38 am

    The wage differential between men and women was the subject of Claudia Goldin’s Presidential Address at the AEA. Paper here:

    Click to access grandgenderconvergence.pdf


  1. January 2, 2014 at 4:45 pm
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