Males and Females in a Discipline Situation: Exploratory Research on Competing Hypotheses

By Hartman, Sandra J.; Fok, Lillian Y. et al. | Journal of Managerial Issues, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

Males and Females in a Discipline Situation: Exploratory Research on Competing Hypotheses


Hartman, Sandra J., Fok, Lillian Y., Crow, Stephen M., Payne, Dinah M., Journal of Managerial Issues


Gender effects in personnel decisions continue to be the subject of lively debate. The debate itself centers on several questions. Are there differences in the way males and females approach personnel-related decision making? Are there differences in the way decisions are made about males and females? Is there any interaction between the gender of the decision maker and gender of the person to whom the decision is directed? Do situational factors such as type of decision (e.g., hiring vs. firing, promotion vs. discipline) come into play?

In this study, we consider the possibility that men and women may be socialized to respond differently in their treatment of same and opposite gender others in a discipline situation. Specifically, we propose that in a discipline situation all decision makers--both males and females--will be more likely to enforce discipline upon a culpable woman than upon a culpable man, in what we refer to as a "Garden of Eden" effect. To the extent that it occurs, this effect suggests that women displaying out-of-role behavior warranting discipline may be seen as temptresses who have provoked the punishment. We further suggest that males will be more equity oriented, punishing a more guilty party severely and reducing the penalties imposed on a less guilty party, while women will be more disposed to equality, imposing similar penalties regardless of degree of guilt. Findings from several streams of literature lead us to these conclusions.

Gender Effects

We considered a number of studies reporting gender-related bias. We looked at reports of the differences among male and female decision makers and of the decisions that impact males and females. We noted that even a straightforward issue, one of whether male and female decision makers differ in harshness of decisions, remains unresolved. Several studies have reported gender-related effects on the harshness of evaluations; however, findings are conflicting. For example, evidence has been provided that, in comparison to males, females are stricter in their judgments (Oliphant and Alexander, 1982), and that they are more lenient than men (Lord et al., 1980; Rose and Andiappan, 1978).

Results of studies examining bias against females in the decision-making process have also been inconclusive. Early research generally reported bias against women in areas of promotion and hiring decisions (e.g., Bartol and Butterfield, 1976; Day and Stogdill, 1972; Fidell, 1970; Hamner et al., 1974; Izraeli and Izraeli, 1985; Lord et al., 1980; Rosen and Jerdee, 1974; Terborg and Ilgen, 1975). More recently, studies in these areas have found no differences (e.g., Rice et al., 1984; Graves and Powell, 1988; Summers et al., 1992; Witt and Nye, 1992) or have reported differences occurring, but only under certain circumstances, such as where minimal information is available (e.g., Dobbins et al., 1988; Heilman, 1984; Heilman and Stopeck, 1985; Shore, 1992; Haberfeld, 1992).

Virtually all the studies considered involve hiring or promotion situations rather than disciplinary cases, and, generally speaking, hiring and promotion have received more attention in the management literature. Findings in the area of discipline are even more equivocal largely because the relatively limited findings in the management literature are inconsistent with those from the courtroom setting. In the workplace, considerable evidence is offered to suggest that women receive harsher penalties than men (Kahn et al., 1980; Larwood et al., 1979; Mai-Dalton and Sulivan, 1981; Mobley, 1982; Morrow and Lowenber, 1983; Oliphant and Alexander, 1982; Taylor and Ilgen, 1981; Wexley and Pulakos, 1982). However, in the courtroom setting, an opposite effect is typically reported and women are found to receive more lenient treatment in criminal proceedings (Dalton and Tudor, 1985; Goldkamp and Gottfredson, 1979; Nagel and Hagen, 1983; Visher, 1983).

We also find that there are two competing theses which endeavor to explain what type of treatment women will receive in a discipline situation and why. …

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