Ethical Business Conduct: An Exploratory Study of Gender Differences

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Articles concerned with the cohort of the American population referred to as "Generation Y" (also known as the "Echo Boom," the "Baby Boomlet," the "Internet Generation," and the "Millennial Generation") those born between the years 1975 and 1995, can be found in outlets as diverse as refereed journals, the popular press, and international and regional conference proceedings. Even the tabloid press is represented. The interest in this group stems in large measure from their attractiveness to marketers and businesses in general. Following the previously center-stage Baby Boom and Generation X age cohorts, members of Generation Y have been increasingly targeted by marketers. Businesses have discovered that they can achieve growth in sales and profitability by targeting increasingly more specific groups of consumers; in short those consumers defined as a generation and sharing important life experiences. The ushering of Generation Y members to the forefront has coincided with their reaching economic adulthood, typically between the ages of 17 and 21. The age of economic adulthood is viewed as significant because attitudes, values, and preferences (for products, brands, and firms) that form before and during this time are unlikely to change as individuals age (Meredith and Schewe 1994).

Another consequence of this age cohort reaching economic adulthood, aside from their importance in their role as consumers, is their emergence as managers, entrepreneurs, and business decision-makers. How individual members of Generation Y will perform in these roles will also affect businesses as they interact with each other as strategic allies, channel partners, suppliers, and colleagues. Additionally, how Generation Y deals with customers, stockholders, and other stakeholders will have spillover effects for the general public. At the dawn of the 21st Century, an examination of Generation Y's ethical foundation is called for. More specific questions related to this line of inquiry include: What influences do they view as important in their development? How familiar are they with various ethical constructs and theories? How do they envision the ethical business organization of the 21st Century? It is likely that gender, in addition to age, will have an impact on Generation Y's activities as they progress in their professional careers. Given the strides that women in particular have made throughout the middle and latter parts of the 20th Century and the trend toward more female-owned and -operated businesses, an examination of potential differences in the ethical foundations of the two genders is warranted.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Ethics represent the moral principles and values that govern the actions and decisions of an individual or group (Lazniak and Murphy 1993). Public outcries concerning the ethical practices of businesspeople have long been around. Results of public opinion studies indicate that 58% of American adults rate the ethical standards of business executives as only "fair" or "poor"; 90% believe white-collar crime is "very common" or "somewhat common"; and 76% say the lack of ethics in businesspeople contributes to plummeting societal moral standards (Krohe 1997, Dallas Morning News 1998, Walker Information 1998).

In an essay, "The Myth of the Amoral Business," DeGeorge (1999), discusses a commonly held view of American business. One of DeGeorge's major assertions is that the American public does not view businesspeople as unethical or immoral, but instead, as being amoral due to the fact that ethical considerations are often seen as inappropriate in business situations. "Business is not structured to handle questions of values and ethics, and its managers have usually not been trained in business schools to do so," (DeGeorge 1999, p. 7). The breakdown of this line of reasoning has begun as a result of three societal trends: (1) more reporting of scandals and the public reaction to these reports; (2) organizing of consumerists; environmentalists, and other socially-conscious groups, and (3) emerging corporate codes of ethical conduct and ethics programs in addition to ethics conferences, and magazine and newspaper articles on the subject (DeGeorge 1999). …