The Gender Apology Gap
By Pratibha Deepak
In the past weeks, the world has been consumed by the Facebook fiasco . In the incident that raised public outrage and a congressional hearing, it was revealed that information of nearly 87 million people were improperly shared with Cambridge Analytics, a consulting firm that did digital work for Donald Trump’s digital campaign in 2016.
This is not the first time that Facebook has been in middle of a firestorm, and definitely will not be the last! (not surprisingly, privacy advocates have long been screaming about the eventuality of a data privacy scandal).
I was not surprised by the by Facebook’s recent data breach and associated ethical transgressions. What really intrigued me was the response of a female leader, Sheryl Sandberg, in the midst of the chaos. The former Google executive, Sandberg, was the first to publicly offer an apology about the Facebook circus. Some might say she went on a full apology tour with interviews on CNBC , Fox News , NBC News and more . Her apology was an open, undiluted confession. She knew Facebook committed a crime and she took full responsibility for that. As quoted by her,
"We made mistakes and I own them and they are on me," she told NBC's Savannah Guthrie during an interview on Friday Today, part of which aired Thursday night.
In her interviews, Sheryl was apologetic and did not shy away from taking accountability. Her apology had the perfect rhythm – Admitting the mistake, Owning responsibility, and suggesting the Future course of action. During her interview, she added:
"We know at Facebook we did not do enough to protect people's data," Sandberg told Perino, also referencing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "Mark is sorry about that. I'm sorry about that." Sandberg further added that, the tech company is taking steps to become more transparent in the stories that it shares on users feed and also that, they will be sharing stories only from trusted feeds.
It was Sheryl who jumped out to douse the fire by going on an apology tour. The question is, then, why was the female leader, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, more aggressive in apologizing than the male leader, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook?
Perhaps, it has something to do with Sheryl being a woman? Possibly, by putting her in the spotlight, Facebook aims to regain the trust of followers. Or are women more likely than men in general to admit a mistake and hence, be the first one to apologize?
As Deborah Tannen, a McGraw distinguished lecturer at Princeton University had said,
“In the American context, there is ample evidence that women are more inclined to offer expressions of contrition than men. (Tannen, 1999, p. 67)
Research has argued that, men are not forthcoming with apologies because they have difficulty admitting that they are wrong! (Engel, 2000; Tannen, 1999). Tannen (2001) in her article further recounts an interesting story of a little boy who disliked Yom Kippur - the Jewish Day of Atonement – because on that day, "you have to say you're sorry" (p. 95).
So, why are men less likely to apologize?
“Suck it up, and be a man” is a common phrase that most of us have heard before. It captures the gender stereotyping of apology. Society sees men who apologies as weak and expects women to apologize. Engel (2001) argued, for men admitting wrongdoing is like losing a power struggle. This is further exemplified by comedian Jim Belushi’s (2006) best seller , which is adequately named Real Men Don’t Apologize. But, can there be another explanation to this? In fact, research suggests that men may be less likely to apologize because they fail to recognize that they have committed a mistake!
This brings us to an interesting experimental study conducted by Schumann and Ross (2010). In this study, 33 men and 33 women were asked to record conflicts with others for twelve days and report the gender of those making apologies at the end of the conflict. Women reported giving a greater number of apologies (217) than men (158), but women also reported committing more offenses (267) than men (196). The study concluded that compared to men, women reported offering more apologies then men. It was also found that, once men were made aware that, they had committed a transgression, they were as likely as women to offer apology. However, women in general are more likely to categorize a behavior as offensive and thus more likely to perceive that an offense occurred. From an organizational perspective, this has important implications. For organizations and leaders of organizations to be able to recover from mistake, it is necessary to admit that, a transgression has happened. Recovery will come only after admittance of mistake.
Does it Really Matter?
Apologies do matter! Experimental studies have shown that leader apologies can reduce anger and aggression and promote wellbeing in the leaders and followers (Basford, 2014; Byrne et. al, 2014).Though Zuckerberg, in his initial apology took responsibility for the Cambridge Analytica’s data abuse, he stopped short of officially verbalizing an apology. His apology was more like a statement about what Facebook will do in the future to prevent third part applications’ misuse of data. This was a departure from Sandberg’s statement, in which she did not hesitate to say, “I’m sorry.”
If a leader has made a mistake, it is necessary that, to ensure the survival of the organization, he or she admits the mistake and moves forward. Organizations should develop their leaders, men and women alike, to have similar standards for understanding transgressions, so that they know when they have made a mistake and can apologize at the right time and in the right way. Organizations needs to establish a strong company culture and robust training program for employees and particularly for its leaders at all levels. These trainings will help them to understand the nature of transgression , the ability to accept and admit that they were wrong and finally to enable them to recover from the transgression.
Some men who are reading this might argue that they apologize all the time! And maybe that’s true. We are not arguing that men don’t apologize at all but what we are saying here is that we there is a gender apology gap. Men and women, equally, need to be able to appropriately recognize their mistakes in order to take corrective action!
Make CSR a Priority
By Jelisa Jones
A recent online article noted the many benefits of engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is the voluntary decision by an organization to be actively involved in their community. Many organizations are adding CSR initiatives as an afterthought because owners and leaders are focused on financial growth, rather than social initiatives. However, this article suggests it is possible to focus on both, and in fact, research shows that doing both offers many benefits. These benefits reach both the community and the organization. Even if you are leading a small start-up, building CSR into your organization and laying the foundation for community involvement may prove beneficial.
Research has identified numerous benefits for organizations having an active role in society. One major benefit is the facilitation of a brand strategy. Customers want to support organizations that express concern for the welfare and development of the community – specifically, environmental sustainability and human rights. This has been recognized by many business leaders. For instance, the former CEO of Shell Corporation stated, “Successful companies are those that integrate the personal values of the customers’ employee’s and the business. People want to support organizations that contribute to society, share the same values, and where their actions count and their views matter.”
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Additionally, organizations that engage in CSR have more positive reputations in the community, higher consumer preferences, more creative and satisfied employees, and higher financial performance. So it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved! For example, one survey found that consumers were willing to pay more for goods that reflect a commitment to CSR programs, and that newer generations accounted for a vast majority of the consumers most attuned with supporting organizations with CSR practices. Even potential stock buyers are interested in an organizations’ CSR initiatives!
Proctor & Gamble provide a great example of CSR as they have CSR initiatives for all parties involved in their business - consumers, employees, suppliers, community, and investors. Some of their CSR initiatives in the community include developing recyclable bottles for shampoo, building wind farms for renewable energy use at their sites, using plant based ingredients in detergent, and pursuing alternatives to animal testing for skin care products.
Currently, it is unclear which CSR approaches have the most positive impact, so organizations are advised to embrace creativity and experimentation in developing CSR models for their organization. When brainstorming how to embed social initiatives into an organization, the Huffington Post article lists five important steps that should be considered. We highlight three:
CSR programs should be considered a priority alongside performance during the beginning of an organization, not as an afterthought. No matter how big or small your social initiative, organizations big and small may positively influence the community while building a reputation for CSR that may positively impact the organization’s bottom line.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
What Happens in [Online] Vegas...
By Kendall Ackerman
As social media use becomes increasingly common in this digital age, the use of cybervetting during employee selection processes is also becoming progressively popular. Many human resource management professionals today assess applicants’ social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter to identify applicants who demonstrate admirable public images and “reflect the ‘right’ kind of private life and mainstream values.” While many employers believe that social media serves as a useful method for determining an applicant’s potential organizational fit with a company, there are many ethical issues still to be worked out in terms of the legality behind using social media for selection decisions.
Employers use cybervetting as a way to narrow down their applicant pool by eliminating candidates whose use of social media does not meet the organization’s standards of professionalism or professed values. In general, social media can provide insight into an individual’s personality, habits, and communication style with others. However, those who are against the use of cybervetting in selection decisions argue that social media has nothing to do with the requirements for performing well on the job, and thus it should not be considered during the selection process. Researchers with this view have been said to have a, “What happens in Vegas” mentality, believing that what happens outside of work should stay outside of work.
However, what happens when an employee decides to blur the lines between work and play on social media, especially when acting as a representative of the organization online? And further, what about when that employee happens to hold a leadership position in the organization and uses social media as a platform for sharing personal opinions, thus portraying the organization in a certain light?
Take a minute to think back to the recent presidential election and its outcome. 44% of US adults reported that they learned information about the 2016 election through social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Throughout the campaign, voters referred to presidential candidates’ social media accounts to collect information about what the candidates believed and why. Old posts were dug up from the past and brought to the attention of everyone across the nation. While Hillary Clinton supporters viewed Trump’s past activity on social media as a negative sign for what was to come, Donald Trump supporters argued that he should not be judged by his past social media posts because they had nothing to do with how he would perform as the President of the United States.
Fast forward to present-day, and those who argued against President Trump’s social media use are likely saying, “I told you so.” Due to its instantaneous and impersonal nature, social media has allowed our President to share his immediate and uncensored thoughts with his 49.5 million Twitter followers with the click of a button. Many argue that President Trump has abused this power, as he often posts opinionated comments that represent the United States in an unfavorable light to other countries. As the President of the United States, Donald Trump is the ultimate leader, public figure, and representative of the giant organization. Everything he says on social media is publicized to an extreme extent, which is crucial for him to keep in mind as he represents the entire United States in all of his messages, good or bad.
So should President Trump’s Twitter account have served as a method of cybervetting him from the presidential candidate pool in 2016? Is cybervetting an appropriate method to narrow down an applicant pool for a leadership position? I am not at liberty to say for certain. In essence, it should come down to whether social media use is a key aspect related to the job at hand. However, it is important to recognize the very fine line between work and play on social media that can be easily blurred or even erased by organizational leaders online. It is a well-known fact that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. Perhaps then, a leader’s past behaviors on social media might, in fact, reflect their future social media behaviors – something that organizations should keep in mind when identifying high profile leaders to represent their companies.