Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Cultural and Gender Differences in the Ethical Beliefs of Accountants

Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Cultural and Gender Differences in the Ethical Beliefs of Accountants

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This study examines differences in the ethical responses of accountants in an international environment. The link between culture and the gender of the subjects are the variables of interest. Accountants (n=326) from eight countries, representative of Hofstede's (1991) high and low individualism dimension values, were chosen for the study. The respondents were requested to give their agreement level associated with five questionable behaviors associated with the work environment. Each item incorporated an individualism cultural element for the accountants to consider when responding to the survey.

The results of the analysis by culture and gender indicated mixed results. The cultural variable was significant ([alpha] [less than or equal to] .05) on three of the five items; gender, on two; and the culture*gender interaction term, on two. The results partially support the expected cultural link, and the results of the gender variable analysis lend limited support to the expected gender differences. Whenever a difference is indicated, the females supplied the more ethical responses.

INTRODUCTION

The continuing reports in the news media of corporate wrongdoing illustrate the need for a greater understanding of ethics in the workplace, particularly with regard to those responsible for financial activities and reporting. Additionally, the ever-growing trend toward business globalization brings a multiplicity of cultural differences within international companies. Although certain ethical values, such as honesty, tend to be somewhat constant across cultures, others, such as private property rights, are culture specific. Likewise, some cultures judge actions that subordinate the good of the group to the welfare of the individual to be highly unethical while others do so to a lesser degree or not at all. To address issues of professional ethics, it is necessary to consider how ethics and group culture are interdependent.

This research examines whether there is a cultural element present in the ethical beliefs of accountants. Culture for this research will adhere to Hofstede's definition, which stresses the "collective programming of the mind" (1987, 1) or "software of the mind" (1991, 4) in reference to the shared beliefs and values of individuals that compose a society. Hofstede believes this mental programming or communal conditioning that individuals share with other societal members affects the way they interpret their environmental experiences (1983, 76).

As defined by Hofstede, Individualism (IDV) is a measure of the relative importance societal members place upon their own beliefs and welfare. In societies exhibiting high individualism (high IDV), societal members focus to a great degree on themselves or a small peer group when making decisions and taking action. On the other hand, members of collectivistic societies (low IDV) place a higher degree of emphasis on the good of the society or the organization as a whole, even at the sacrifice of the good of the individual. In accounting, the IDV index is linked to evidence that the importance of an independent attitude and individual initiative varies from culture to culture.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Over the last two decades, mixed results from ethics research have been reported in the international literature. In a survey of business and governmental personnel from the US and Hong Kong, Dolecheck and Dolecheck (1987) reported a cultural link (i.e., using the individualism dimension) in their results. The US respondents indicated that laws are considered minimal requirements, while the Hong Kong respondents indicated the belief that ethics is directly linked to following the law. In surveying US and Hong Kong managers, Ralston et al. (1994) reported some cultural differences in the responses. The individualistic, Western belief was that generally ethical behavior applies to everyone, "while in the East, 'face' and ethical behavior depend on the situation" (997). …

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