The phrase, “Power corrupts,” is true in more ways than one. The relationship between having power and being corrupted by it, is stronger than one might expect. In fact, few of us may be immune to this…this overwhelming effect that comes with power. Why am I talking about this ? With the recent news of Ms. Kocchar taking India by storm, and many female (and male) friends, Indians and countrymen questioning why she, such a (now perceived) paradigm of virtue could have been so greedy, so corrupt? Some have shown surprise, even disgust, as they ask, “Tsk, tsk… how could she? That too, being a woman!” The first time I heard this, I was incredulous ! What had gender got to do with the corrupting effect of power? Everything, according to most of the comments I was hearing in the aftermath of the news…
Frankly, I would’ve thought that the ‘astonishment’ would have to do with the fact that she was looked up to (even idolised) by many…. Women and men, boys and girls….she was doing the rounds of giving inspirational and enlightening talks at schools (my daughter’s, for one), colleges and the like. Also, stereotypes of women being more moral and ethical came into play here….women being seen as nurturing and maternal…more cooperative and altruistic than men, less risk prone, and above all, more fair, and more averse to inequality.
Researcher Antonakis and colleagues (The Leadership Quarterly, 2014) conducted experiments, manipulating the amount of power given to participant leaders and then allowing them to make decisions about the distribution of monetary rewards amongst themselves and subordinates. At first, leaders said the money should be distributed fairly. However, when the leaders were given more power, and the chance to keep the rewards for themselves, around eighty percent became corrupted and kept a larger share of the rewards. These studies also investigated the cause for the corruption and tested the honesty, personality, and hormone levels of the leaders (testosterone levels). The only relevant variable of the prediction of corruption was the level of testosterone in the leaders. Obviously, since women have lower levels of testosterone than men, they were found to be more resistant to corruption than their male counterparts. The results of this research also suggest that males who scored high on honesty variables, still could be prone to corruption.
Given that most powerful people in leadership roles are men, there is a greater likelihood of corruption in governments, large corporations and places where the men clearly outnumber women. This sheds some light on why men are corrupt. But what about women? Well, if we are all fighting for equality of gender, then the discovery of women being corrupt should be a feather in our caps, should it not ? If a man can be a corrupt leader, why should a woman be far behind ? The more women perceive themselves as equalling men, in a variety of areas, such as education, politics, business, etc., the more they will probably manifest the traits that are so obviously attributed to their male counterparts. Over time, several studies have shown that leaders (men or women), may begin to believe they are “above the law”, and that they are “entitled” to more than people who have less. So coming back to recent news…it’s just human behaviour….power can corrupt…some more than others…it’s nothing to do with gender, but may have something to do with personality, your position, whether you feel you may get away with it or not (seeing yourself as God-like…. This reminds me of those famous despots who believed in the divine right of kings, aka Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and were killed by the guillotine for it !). Just remember, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
By Scherezade Mansukhani
Scherezade is a Clinical Child Psychologist, Part-time mother, blogger, French teacher and IATA teacher. She has worked with the differently abled, and now works on and off as a teacher.