Female MBA students score low on ethics test

When Roger Steare, corporate philosopher in residence at Cass Business School in the UK, analysed results from female MBA students worldwide who had taken his MoralDNA personality test, he expected them to score highly on questions regarding care for others. The test is designed to reveal people’s moral values and the way they prefer to make decisions about what is right. However, female MBA students scored statistically lower than women in other professions. The MBA participants also scored statistically lower on questions regarding their obedience of others, in comparison to their counterparts.

“The one that’s most surprising is the [first one] as generally women score higher than average on issues of care,” he says. “The ethics of obedience results is not such a surprise as leaders in business tend to be less likely to be compliant.” And this is not necessarily a negative result, he adds. For the last 50 years, there has been a lot of work done on theories about people’s need to conform with others, using past dictatorships to show how wrong this approach can be.

But with regards to the ethics of care, Prof Steare believes the lack of consideration among female MBA students has to change. “To run a business, you have to be customer-centric and care about the colleagues and environment you are operating in,” he says. “Some people think you can’t have a successful business and care about others but that’s not true... Research shows that a high level of care does create success in the long run.” He cites companies listed in a study called Firms of Endearment as good examples of this: Starbucks, the coffee chain, Patagonia, the clothing company and BMW, the car manufacturer.

Despite his concern, Prof Steare can see how these results may have transpired. Ultimately, he blames business schools for not giving enough importance to ethical considerations. “Schools aren’t doing enough to prepare business leaders to make decisions with empathy as well as logic,” he says. “[They] need to spend more time on anthropology... Success is not just about profit and loss accounts.”

His view is reinforced by the results from male MBA students who also score statistically lower on ethics of care and obedience - even lower than female MBA participants in fact.

The MoralDNA test was co-designed by Roger Steare and Pavlos Stamboulides. So far more than 80,000 people from over 200 countries have participated.

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