Even in white collar crime, female crooks face a glass ceiling
Female white-collar crooks face the same glass ceiling as their law-abiding peers in the corporate world: They 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.
No wonder so few women get mixed up in corporate fraud.
“Paralleling gendered labor market segmentation….sex segregation in corporate criminality is pervasive, suggesting only subtle shifts in gender socialization and women’s opportunities for significant white-collar crimes,” writes sociologist Darrell J. Steffensmeier of Pennsylvania State University and his research colleagues in the journal American Sociological Review.
Steffensmeier and his team studied the involvement of women in recent corporate frauds using an unique database created by the federal government in the wake of the multi-billion dollar Enron scandal in 2001.
The data set includes 83 fraud cases involving 436 defendants that were initiated from 2002 through 2009 by the multi-agency federal Corporate Fraud Task Force. Individual case records included the names of defendants, characteristics of the company, the alleged scheme and the charges.
In all, they found that only 37 women were indicted in connection with these corporate frauds, or about 9% of all offenders.
Females in the conspiracy also occupied lower rungs of the corporate ladder—often in accounting or finance positions—and played similarly secondary roles in the conspiracy.
“The majority of male offenders held a top executive or upper-level positions whereas a much smaller portion of female conspirators were high-ranking officials—only 8 percent of women were in top management and 30 percent were in upper-level positions,” the research team found.
Similarly, only three women fraudsters but 156 men were identified by researchers as a “ringleader” of the conspiracy. Only one female ringleader—Michele Tobin, ex-CEO of Network Technologies Group—was not married to another ringleader.
And talk about an earnings gap: More than half of all women (56%) did not personally profit from the fraud, the researchers found. Instead some women did their dirty work to help save the company from impending bankruptcy or to make their firm look better to stockholders, investors or regulators than it otherwise was. Still others said they knowingly committed illegal acts simply because they were instructed to do so by a superior.
In contrast, “the majority of male offenders personally gained a half-million dollars or more,” Steffensmeier wrote.
These findings, the researchers argue, mirrors sex segregation and the marginalization if women in the overall labor market. “As a result, women are likely either excluded entirely from lucrative criminal conspiracies or are utilized in sex-typed ways,” they wrote.
Category: Social Studies
Rich Morin is a senior editor focusing on social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.