Women, Rule-Breaking, and the Triple Bind
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Two growing literatures critique Hobbesian corporate cultures. Management analyses document the way high-stakes/zero-sum bonus systems undermine, rather than enhance, productivity as they subvert teamwork, valorize self-interested behavior, and weaken ethical standards. This literature treats negative effects of such systems, including lawless and unethical behavior, as the unintended consequences of efforts to shake up complacent institutions or replace an insular old guard with an ambitious and meritocratic new workforce. A second, darker literature terms such Hobbesian environments “masculinities contests” that select for those executives who best exemplify masculine traits such as a single-minded focus on professional success, physical strength, and the willingness to engage in no-holds-barred competition. This literature treats the rule-breaking environment that results as an incidental byproduct of the way that such cultures valorize masculine traits. Drawing on insights from criminology, psychology, and feminist theory, this Article suggests another possibility: that certain management cultures intentionally design the competitions to facilitate breaking the rules with impunity.
In a Hobbesian world, where some profit handsomely from defying convention, zero-sum competitions play a role that extends beyond valorizing alpha males. They select for leaders who will lie, shortchange their families, and break the law to get results—and do so without explicit orders that might subject upper management to accountability for the practices. In such a world, women fall behind not necessarily because of misogyny, though such environments often breed it. Instead, they lose because of a triple bind. First, women cannot prevail in such competitions unless they can outmaneuver men, credibly display greater devotion to the job, or more brazenly flout the laws. Second, they are disproportionately disliked and punished for displaying the self-centered, rule-breaking behavior of men. Third, women become less likely to seek positions because they correctly perceive that they could not thrive and are more likely than men to decide they do not wish to do so on such terms, reinforcing the male-identified character of such environments. Where these companies’ business models depend not just on the ability to upend traditional practices, but to break the law, the companies cannot address gender disparities without addressing the business model itself. The Article concludes that gender inequality is intrinsically intertwined with the evisceration of the rule of law in corporate America.