A Failure of Feminism: Women Are Being Systematically Excluded From White-Collar Crime

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Aug. 7 2013 12:00 PM

A Failure of Feminism: Women Are Being Systematically Excluded From White-Collar Crime

52439489
Martha Stewart, one of the few high-profile female executives to be implicated in a white-collar crime, leaves the federal courthouse on March 17, 2005 in New York City. Stewart appeared in federal appeals court to argue that she was unfairly convicted on charges of lying about a stock sale.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.

Even after all the gains they’ve made in recent decades, women still have a tough time climbing the corporate ladder. An April New York Times blog post reported that women “make up only 16 percent of directors at Fortune 500 companies, 4 percent of chief executives at Standard & Poor’s 500 companies and 10 percent of chief financial officers at S.& P. 500 companies.”

Advertisement

I guess it’s not a surprise, then, to learn that women also have trouble climbing the corporate crime ladder. A new study in the American Sociological Review analyzed 83 white-collar corporate crime cases from 2002 to 2009, and found that female executives rarely participate and even more rarely take leadership roles in corporate fraud schemes.

As Rich Morin at Pew’s Fact Tank blog writes, female white-collar criminals “typically hold inferior positions to men in the criminal conspiracies in which they are engaged, rarely lead a fraud ring and make significantly less money for their dirty deeds than their male accomplices.” When they are apprehended, female fraudsters routinely explain that they were instructed or persuaded to participate by male superiors. Morin also notes that while 156 male defendants were identified as “ringleaders” of their respective conspiracies, only 3 women earned that designation—and two of them were married to men who were also considered ringleaders in the scheme.

What can we conclude from this? Obviously, one big reason for the disparity is that there are fewer women than men in the sorts of higher-level positions that present opportunities to commit financial fraud. But the researchers suggest the results can’t simply be explained away by a lack of opportunity. They mention that research has found women to be more risk-averse than men, and suggest that the rate of criminal behavior has something to do with gender norms: 

The separation between what is feminine and what is criminal is sharp, whereas the dividing line between what is masculine and what is illegal is often thin. Although male sex role norms do not prescribe crime, risk-taking and defying social convention are qualities more admired in men than in women.

So the internalized, perhaps subconscious notion that women aren’t supposed to be criminals might serve to prevent women from getting involved in white-collar crime. But the notion also stops male conspirators from recruiting women into their schemes, under the belief that women lack the nerve to participate and succeed.

Of course, there’s another possible conclusion. The study only looked at white-collar criminals who have been caught. Maybe it’s just that women are better at getting away with it.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?

Science

“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 9:19 PM The Phone Call Is Twenty Minutes of Pitch-Perfect, Wrenching Cinema
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.