By Carrie Zapka, SIOP Blogger
Sorry, the title has a typo. I accidentally added a “wo” into the quote I just heard on NPR. My mistake, it should have read “the most pow erful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized,” (NPR PSU Scandal presented on 7-12-2012).
I am sports agnostic myself. Paterno, shpaterno- never heard of him before this scandal broke out. So when I heard the story, I did not care about the main points of the piece as presented. It moved me, though, because it is a powerful example of what can happen when an organization does not practice the ethical principles taught by the field of I-O.
The story recounted a janitor witnessing a rape, telling colleagues, other janitors, about it, and then deciding that they could not report it because they thought they would get fired if they did. I imagined a group of men huddling around a garbage can, depressed, frustrated, and angry. Perhaps they all had families at home and they were the sole providers. They knew they should report it, but they feared jeopardizing the welfare of their loved ones.
As I tried to put myself in this situation and imagine what I would do, I realized I was imagining a huddle of only men. Then, I felt guilty, as I was reminded of my own gender bias. I personally know at least two female janitors and the story did not specify whether the janitor was female or male, but, I know that my first image was probably accurate.
What if all of the janitors had been women that day? What if some of them had children about the age of the victim one had witnessed being abused? I wonder if a female janitor would have been any more likely to break through the shackles of the oppressive fear-based culture and trump politics, power, and money than a male janitor because of some form of maternal instinct. Would a female janitor have been more likely to speak up, even if it meant losing her job?
The quote from NPR also reinforced my gender bias when they referred to the most powerful men. My first thought when I heard that was that if the leaders were women this might not have happened. I know that is a sexist thought, but is there anything to it? What percentage of “the most powerful people” in the world of college athletics are women? Does anyone in I-O study organizational culture in the arena of professional sports? Would this have happened if the senior leaders were women, if this blog title were not an intentional typo?
I think crime rates for men are higher than women. I remember that the whistleblower at Enron was a woman. These are the only data points that I am using to pose this question. I realize that I have a personal bias because I am a woman and also because of a few instances in my career when I have felt that something was not entirely ethical, it happened to be male colleagues involved. This story really got me thinking about the potential role does gender of an individual employee or senior leader may play in creating an ethical culture. Does science support the idea that organizations with higher percentages of women are more ethical, or is that just a sexist thought?
Please reply and share your thoughts on the Penn State scandal and the role of gender in organizational ethics?