Women and White-Collar Crime Research Paper

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Women’s involvement in white-collar crime has received little attention in the popular press and scholarly literature. A similar pattern of indifference occurred for most aspects of gender and crime until the 1970s, primarily because women were far less likely to engage in illegal behavior. The mid-1970s represented a period of transformation in criminological studies which coalesced with the momentum of the women’s rights movement. The next three decades placed gender and crime on the research forefront as feminist scholars sought to challenge and change the masculine focus of criminal behavior – except in corporate and occupational crime. The higher crime rates among women were perplexing, with little theoretical explanation and scant data to provide a framework for scholarly examinations. The 1980s and 1990s resulted in remarkable efforts by academics to explain gender differences related to the ratio gaps, motivations, and arrest patterns. Men, however, for a multitude of reasons, continue to commit the majority of crime in the United States.

Key Issues And Controversies

Historically, female criminality was attributed to maladjusted upbringing, psychological neuroses, and desperate attempts to provide monetary assistance to family and friends. These explanations of why women engage in crime meshed nicely with arrest rates for female offending: prostitution, check-kiting, child abuse, and shoplifting. During the 1950s, female criminality often was attributed inaccurately to sexual promiscuity. Female delinquents were described as troubled, disturbed girls with poor self-esteem whose frustration resulted in inappropriate sexual behavior. Overall, attempts to understand female criminality were dismissed, ignored, and hampered by the idea that crime was a male activity committed and studied by men (Brown et al. 2007; Daly and ChesneyLind 1988). A transformation of stereotypes associated with female behavior, legal and illegal, occurred as an increasing number of women left the private sphere and entered the public domain. Ideas that women were more compassionate and ethical compared to men were challenged in the public sphere. The workplace demanded competitive behavior and provided new opportunities to engage in crime. The changing role of women was noted as early as 1922 by Clarence Darrow:

No doubt as women enter the field of industry formerly occupied by men, and as she takes her part in politics and sits on juries, the percentage of female criminals will rise rapidly. As she takes her place with men she will be more and more judged as men are judged, and will commit the crimes that men commit, and furnish her fair quotas of the penitentiaries and jails. (cited in Steffensmeier and Streifel 1993, p. 79)

In 1975, Freda Adler and Rita James Simon’s groundbreaking work brought female criminality into the public domain. Adler’s acclaimed, though controversial book, Sisters in Crime, raised awareness about the offenses women did and would commit; she also set forth expectations that women would participate at increasing levels in all types of crime given the opportunity. In perhaps the most prophetic line in Adler’s book, she wrote:

In the future a greater proportion of wealth and power will pass through feminine hands, and almost all of it will be wielded responsibly. But it would be unrealistic reversion to quixotic chivalry to believe that, for better or worse, women will be any more honest than men. (p. 169)

Adler noted the importance of the context of social roles and criminal behavior: “The kinds of crimes one commits are related to the illegal opportunities to commit them. While a shopper might pilfer from commercial establishments, it is not possible to be involved in insider trading, unless one is ‘inside’ the corporate community” (Dodge 2009, p. 180).

Similarly, Simon predicted in her book Women and Crime an increase in white-collar offenses among women and believed that opportunity was the essential element in rising female crime rates. She accurately anticipated an increase in incidents of fraud, embezzlement, larceny, and forgery as women began to participate at higher rates in typically male-dominated, nontraditional occupations. Simon explained her position in a 2007 interview: “Women are no more honest, no more decent, and no more moral than men. The only reason they have lower crimes rates, particularly, white-collar crime, was because they had fewer opportunities to commit crime” (Dodge 2009, p. 12).

Critics, however, argued the work by Adler and Simon lacked empirical integrity and debates continued over whether or not the predictions related to increased female involvement in traditionally male offenses actually emerged (see, e.g., Daly and Chesney-Lind 1988; Steffensmeier and Allan 1996). Clearly, current research shows a trend toward more female participation in monetary crimes. Arrest statistics, according to Simon and Ahn-Redding’s (2005) analysis, have shown an increase in the number of women in high-status positions with fiduciary responsibilities which appears to correlate with higher arrest rates for white-collar offenses.

More recently, scholars and practitioners have sought to explain the perpetration by and victimization of women in the field of white-collar crimes. Women who commit white-collar crime are thought to be on the rise, though a lack of data restricts any definitive conclusions. Debates related to the extent of involvement for women in white-collar crime arise from several significant issues. First, definitions of white-collar crime often focus on the offender who is typically described as a person who holds a position of authority, status, or trust. Generally, white-collar criminals are business and professional men engaging in illegal or unethical behavior in the course of business. Women, more likely to be relegated to the private sphere or pink-collar jobs, have lacked opportunity to engage in elite crime. Second, disagreement exists over what types of crime constitute a white-collar offense, which typically focuses on corporate and occupational violations and wrongdoing. More recent work suggests that the category of status include middle-class and working class people, and even juveniles (Shapiro 1990; Pontell and Rosoff 2009). Despite disagreements on offender and offenses, arguably both genders are motivated to engage in white-collar crime for similar reasons related to opportunity, greed, and the American Dream.

Women Who Commit White-Collar Crime

The increasing number of white-collar violations by women has received some recognition by scholars and the popular press. In 1984, an article in the U.S. News & World Report reported on the concern over rising incidents of white-collar by professional and corporate women. Examples included Nancy Young, a lawyer, who stole $300,000 from clients’ accounts; Frances Cox who embezzled $48,000 from the Virginia government; Mary Hudson, board chairman of Hudson Oil, who was accused of involvement in a scheme to fix gas pumps to rip-off customers; and Mary Treadwell who defrauded tenants in a housing project. In 2004, reporter Anthony Paonita presented a laundry list of women involved in high-profile crimes such as price-fixing, racketeering, fraud, and political corruption.

Previous empirical work shows the trend toward greater participation by women. Jay Albanese (1993) reported an increase in the number of women employed in white-collar jobs along with an upswing in the number of arrests for fraud, forgery, counterfeiting, and embezzlement during the 1970s and 1980s. Haantz (2002) discovered from a sample of 1,016 federal prisoners incarcerated for white-collar crimes in 2000 that nearly one in four was a woman. Simon and Ahn-Redding (2005) found, in 2001, women accounted for more than one-third of all arrests for larceny and almost half of all arrests for embezzlement and fraud. Overall, the results indicate women are committing more white-collar crimes because of greater participation in the labor force which provides increased opportunities.

Embezzlement represents a category of crime in which women excel. Despite debates over the classification of embezzlement offenses, many scholars and law enforcement agencies recognize the theft of money by a person in a position of trust as a form of employee crime as white-collar crime. Much of the debate over including embezzlement in the realm of white-collar is offender focused. Often embezzlers are low-level employees such as clerks or bookkeepers, though they hold a position of fiduciary trust and may steal high dollar amounts. Friedrichs (2010) noted embezzlement also is readily apparent in the high monetary losses companies suffer from managers, often female, who award themselves outrageous bonus and perks.

Embezzlement is the one category of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report that shows the arrests for women at a rate equal to or higher than men. Joseph Morales, Chief Deputy District Attorney in Denver, Colorado, estimated approximately 73 % of the embezzlement cases reported to their office were female offenders (personnel communication, October 2011). The Marquet Report on Embezzlement described 2010 as a “banner year for employee theft in the United States” (p. 4). Marquet’s analysis of 483 major embezzlement cases (defined as losses of about $100,000 or more) revealed 64 % of the crimes were committed by women, though males stole significantly higher dollar amounts. The largest monetary case, however, was carried out by a Melissa G. King, who stole over $42 million from union benefit accounts over a 7 year period. According to the report’s findings, the motivations of the majority of embezzlers involved the desire for a more lavish lifestyle rather than financial problems.

Early research on embezzlers by Donald Cressey (1953) included interviews with male offenders at three prisons. The criterion for participation was operationalized as “violators of financial trust” and included a sample of embezzlers, forgers, and other fiduciary offenses. The men self-reported having a “non-sharable” financial problem and viewed their embezzlement as a means to secretly solve their dilemmas. Participants also noted a sense of entitlement and resentment toward their employers. The embezzlers used “vocabularies of adjustment” to justify their theft as borrowing money. In the first study of female embezzlers, Dorothy Zietz (1981) interviewed women at the California Institution for Women. At the time of the interviews of the 900 women inmates, 45 % had been convicted of felonies against property. The 100 participants in her study were identified as either embezzlers (i.e., “honest women who violated financial trust”) or fraudulent operators (“women who intended to steal or defraud”). The honest women embezzlers, an oxymoron at best, included four types: Obsessive protectors, romantic dreamers, greedy opportunists, and victims of pressure or persuasion. Unlike Cressey’s embezzlers, the women rationalized their actions as benefiting their families.

A recent study of 40 individuals convicted of a variety of fiduciary frauds compared interview data of 20 male and 20 female offenders (Klenowski et al. 2011). The findings revealed that both genders engaged in rationalizations to frame their criminal conduct as legitimate in order to maintain a respectable self-identity. All offenders made attempts to justify their crimes as a method of helping their families and friends. More commonly, women were likely to blame the inability of male members of the household to act as providers, whereas men faulted their own inadequacies. The responses analyzed in terms of techniques of neutralization discovered that male offenders were more likely to deny injury, make claims of normality, and condemn their condemners. In contrast, women defended their actions as necessary to resolve financial issues related to family and health. The small sample size in the Klenowski, Copes, and Miller study limits any definitive conclusions related to gendered motivations, though the findings are similar to early work that found women were more likely to rationalize their financial crimes as attempts to solve family problems.

Current research on women who commit fiduciary crime is limited and their means and motives not fully explored. In some cases, women engage in embezzlement because of family concerns; however, a multitude of examples show the complexities of the psychological and social contextual variables associated with their decisions. In 2004, for example, Ruth Cameron misappropriated $150,000 from the University of Colorado Boulder to supplement a more lavish lifestyle. Mary Ellen Wilson was charged with stealing almost $300,000 over 8 years and admitted to spending the money on gambling and extravagant trips to Europe. In one of the largest financial swindles against the state of Colorado, Michelle Cawthra, a supervisor of the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Taxpayer Service Office, stole over $5 million, which she shared with her married boyfriend who accompanied her on trips to Las Vegas.

Case studies also reveal women are active participants in major white-collar crimes including insider trading, price-fixing, political graft, and corporate fraud. The media hoopla surrounding these cases, however, often distorts the crucial elements of the crimes and reduces analyses to gender stereotypes. Women who step outside their roles as “feminine” and dare tread on the toes of the powerful male executives and prosecutors are likely to be treated harshly as white-collar criminals.

Martha Stewart’s alleged wrongdoings present all the complexities of a white-collar crime, particularly one committed by a woman who epitomizes and profits from the domesticity and corporate spheres. Insider trading was the most serious allegation, though Stewart was never charged or tried for the crime. The prosecution of Stewart was contentious and many commentators and loyal fans believed she was a victim of an overzealous prosecutor. Newspapers reported she may have been singled out based on gender, but the more likely scenario for pursuing charges of perjury was because she was unlikeable and arrogant.

Stewart was not the first unlikeable powerful woman to face criminal charges related to white-collar offenses. In the 1980s, Leona Helmsley was indicted for conspiracy to defraud the government, tax evasion, mail fraud, and extortion. Helmsley was well known for her fierce intensity and compulsion to demand perfection in employees. Helmsley, a powerful business woman in New York, became more famous when she married billionaire, hotel and real estate magnate Harry Helmsley. The holdings of the Helmsleys were extensive and included ownership of the Empire State Building and the Park Lane and Carlton House hotels. Leona Helmsley managed the Palace Hotel as queen of her own realm and was viewed by many employees as an evil dictator.

In 1986, a reporter for the New York Post first reported the allegations and provided evidence of wrongdoing by the Helmsleys. The Helmsleys were accused of falsifying millions of dollars of renovations to their mansion as business expenses. The article prompted the US Attorney to launch an investigation. Leona also was said to have charged clothing and gifts to business accounts. One such gift for her husband was a $45,000 silver clock designed in the shape of the Helmsley Building. Prosecutors argued the billing schemes were a blatant attempt to avoid paying taxes.

Leona Helmsley’s reputation became a focal point for the media and ensuing trial. Her mean spirited reputation and mistreatment of employees became legendary. Scores of scorned employees related horror stories of her verbal abuse and threats. One employee commented: “She’s just like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. She makes the rules, and if you don’t live by her rules, then off with your head” (cited in Pierson 1989, p. 355). Former employees claimed that she extorted money and services from contractors and suppliers. One accusation involved RCA and her demand for free televisions for the Helmsleys’ mansion in order for the company to secure the hotels’ accounts. Leona’s reputation as a cold and nasty person was perpetuated by the mayor of New York, Edward Koch, who called her the “Wicked Witch of the West” and Newsweek magazine which headlined an article “Rhymes with Rich.” Even her defense lawyer joined the fray and referred to his client as one “tough bitch,” despite his client’s aversion to the characterization (Blum 1989).

The unflattering characterization of the 69-year-old Helmsley likely represented a major obstacle to winning the jury trial. Her husband, who was 80 years old at the time, was found mentally incompetent and avoided the ordeal of a trial. Leona, however, was faced with countering prosecutor’s assertions that her status as one of the socially elite made the allegation of tax evasion far more despicable compared to the average person. During the trial, she was described as a cheat and a cheapskate. Testimony by an Internal Revenue Service agent detailed the personal items charged as business expenses including her hair rollers, a $13 girdle from Bloomingdales, a $58 Itty Bitty Book Light, and a $21 crossword puzzle club subscription (Pierson 1989).

The 10-week trial included over 40 prosecution witnesses and 10,000 pages of documentations. The jury of six men and six women deliberated for 6 days and found Helmsley guilty of 33 felonies. Many spectators and commentators believed Helmsley was unlikely to garner much sympathy from the jury; despite her age, gender, and caregiver role to her husband. She denied any wrongdoing and placed the blame for her situation on people who were jealous of her position and her husband (Pierson 1989). She also shifted blame to former employees, who she asserted were stealing from the companies. Helmsley was sentence to 4 years in prison, fined $7.1 million, and ordered to pay $1.7 million in owed taxes. She was released after serving 18 months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. When Harry Helmsley died in 1997, he left an estimated $1.7 billion estate to his wife. When Leona Helmsley died in 2007 she left most of her estate to a charitable trust and a $12 million trust fund to her dog, Trouble.

Cases of women who commit corporate, professional, and political crime are plentiful and as a whole suggest increased female participation. Diana Brooks, labeled as one of the most powerful women in the world of art was charged and pled guilty to a price-fixing scheme between two of the most powerful auction houses in the world, Sotheby and Christie’s. In 2003, Lea Fastow, the only woman charged in the Enron case, was indicted for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, aiding and abetting, and tax fraud. Fastow accepted a plea bargain and received a 1 year prison sentence for a misdemeanor conviction. Betty Vinson, the corporate reporting director for WorldCom, was sentenced to 5 months in prison for attempting to hide $7 billion in expenses and inflate earnings. The WorldCom scandal represented one of the biggest corporate meltdowns and involved fraud amounting to over $11 billion. Robin Szeliga, former chief financial officer at the telecommunications company Qwest, accepted a plea bargain on one count of insider trading for her role in the multibillion-dollar accounting scheme.

The list of women involved in political crime also is growing and opportunities are expanding. Political corruption often involves bribery by individuals, organizations, and corporations. The estimates of money paid to public and private officials in the United States range from $3 billion to $1 trillion in bribes annually (Baird 2006). Bribery is the most common form of political corruption, though other major offenses include violating public trust and influencing governmental contracts awards (Ross 2003). Overall, given the lack of participation by women in politics, the number of cases of corrupt female officials is surprising.

The Bess Myerson case represents the quintessential example of illegal and unethical behavior developing from a political appointment that mixed street and suite crimes. In 1945, Myerson was the first Jewish woman to be crowned Miss America. She hosted the television game show The Big Payoff and was a regular panelist on I’ve Got a Secret. The Big Payoff was cancelled during the quiz-show scandals in the mid-1950s when evidence emerged that the games were rigged. In the late 1960s, Myerson entered the world of politics as a champion for consumer protection legislation when she was appointed by Mayor John Lindsay as New York City’s first Commissioner of Consumer Affairs. She became a beloved political figure and set out on a campaign to protect consumers. In her new position, Myerson frequently appeared on television to attack “shamburgers,” unlicensed auto mechanics, and unsafe toys (Alexander 1990). In her first 4 months as commissioner she issued 1,300 summonses to companies for consumer violations.

Myerson was a frequent social companion of Ed Koch during his unsuccessful 1982 Governor’s race. Many people in the Democratic Party believed that with Myerson attending events with Koch rumors that he was gay would be dispelled after a nasty campaign slogan; “Vote for Cuomo, not the homo” began circulating. While Koch served as Mayor he appointed Myerson to the position of Commissioner of Cultural Affairs of New York City. Myerson, though popular, often was criticized for engaging in underhanded tactics and questionable behavior.

While acting as Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, Myerson’s role as a consultant to Bristol-Myers became a source of controversy. Myerson developed a consumer products guide for Bristol-Myers that failed to mention the possible carcinogens in Clairol hair dyes that were being targeted by the Food and Drug Administration. Her history of shoplifting also raised questions about her credibility.

Myerson took advantage of her fame and relished in the special treatment it afforded her. She ate at restaurants that provided free meals, accepted merchandise from vendors at wholesale prices, and neglected to pay for items (Alexander 1990). Her reputation as a cheapskate was widely known, though in the 1980s her net worth was $4 million. Myerson’s personal and professional lives became fodder for the New York newspapers and her behavior was seen as increasingly scandalous. Her partnership with reputed mobster Andy Capasso became legendary when she used her political position to influence the outcome of his divorce case. Then revelations of widespread corruption in the Koch administration became public and five top city officials were indicted and convicted for bribery, racketeering, and fraud (Alexander 1990). Later, Prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani indicted Myerson and several codefendants on conspiracy and mail fraud charges.

When Myerson, who denied any wrongdoing and labeled the ordeal as a “witch hunt,” was served with a subpoena at her office she screamed: “I don’t give a fuck about any of this shit! I’m still commissioner around here? To hell with.. .Giuliani! I don’t want anybody cooperating with those guys!” (Alexander 1990, p. 17). The Daily News reported: “At long last, the Bess Myerson rock has been kicked over, and what’s crawling out is sickening: arrogance, abuse of power, payroll manipulation, case-fixing, cover-up” (Alexander 1990, p. 207). Koch sided with public sentiment about her guilt and claimed to be shocked, calling her actions deplorable, dishonorable, and disgraceful, though he had received a report that confirmed the allegations against Myerson several months prior to the indictment.

Myerson was acquitted of all the charges, but the scandal and trial destroyed her already questionable reputation. People blamed her plight on her arrogance and inability to play by the rules. Alexander noted the fall of Myerson was directly related to her gendered perspectives: “Her attitude has very much to do with her view of men and women—that at bottom we women are alone in the world, and we have to do the most we can to defeat or outsmart or outrun the men. Basically, she hated men” (p. 55).

Examples of political crime by women are surprisingly numerous. Sara Bost, who served as mayor of Irvington, New Jersey, was indicted for taking bribes from developers and engaging in witness tampering. After a year-long investigation by the federal government and 1 month into a jury trial, Bost pled guilty to one count of witness tampering and the charges that she had received $8,500 in kickbacks. She was sentenced to 1 year in prison, a $2,000 fine, and 150 hours of community service work. Commentators sarcastically noted that Bost had broken the glass ceiling to join the ranks of the boys club—in prison (Dodge 2009). Bost, like Stewart, served her time at Alderson prison. Nidia Davila-Colon, a long-term freeholder in New Jersey, resigned her position after her conviction for bribery. DavilaColon was charged with mail fraud and aiding and abetting an attempted extortion scheme. She was sentence to 3 years and 1 month in a federal prison. In a similar case, Chicago Alderman Arenda Troutman was arrested in 2007 on federal bribery charges. Troutman, according to an FBI report, accepted a $5,000 cash bribe with an additional payment of $15,000 as political contributions after supporting zoning changes and alley access for a private developer.

In 1994, Linda Schrenko became one of the first women in Georgia to be elected to a statewide office as school superintendent. She was responsible for a $7 billion budget. When she ran for governor on the Republican ticket in 2002, she genderized the campaign race. In her first commercial she informed the public: “I’m asking you to send a woman to clean the House and I’ll throw in the Senate for free.” Throughout her campaign, she noted she was “obviously not a good ol’ boy” and wore a name tag “I Am ‘That Woman.’”

Schrenko’s gubernatorial campaign ran short of money. In August 2001, the account balance was $113 and a number of bounced checks surfaced. Sometime later, significant amounts of cash deposits were made, including federal education money that was earmarked for Georgia Schools for the Deaf and the Governor’s Honors Program. Meanwhile, Schrenko was writing checks for cash to her family and transferring funds to offshore accounts. Stolen money was also used for a face lift and to purchase a new car.

Schrenko faced over 40 criminal counts and eventually pled guilty to felony charges of conspiracy and money laundering. She was sentenced to 8 years in prison, ordered to pay restitution of $415,000, 3 years’ probation, and 100 days of community service. The presiding judge called her crimes “an egregious abuse of the public’s trust.” Schrenko denied any responsibility and placed the blame on her campaign manager and lover, Merle Temple. When she was asked during a television interview how she could be unaware of how the money was being handled, she stated: “Utter stupidity.” She also commented in the same interview: “I don’t want to handle the finances; I’m not good at that. I just want to improve the educational system and help kids: it wasn’t about the money and the power.”

Overall, the number of women involved in political wrongdoing, given their low representation, is surprising. Betty Loren-Maltese, former Illinois town president, was accused of racketeering and fraud in connection to an insurance scheme that resulted in $12 million in losses to the town. Loren-Maltese was known to be a flashy gambler and extravagant spender. She allegedly lost $1.2 million in Las Vegas gambling, while authorities attempted to seize her assets (Paonita 2004). Janet Rehnquist, the daughter of former chief justice William Rehnquist, was appointed inspector general of the US Department of Health and Human Services by President Bush. In 2003, a GAO report uncovered unethical and illegal activities including improperly obtaining law enforcement credentials that allowed her to carry a gun in the office and she allegedly traveled for pleasure at the expense of the taxpayers (Paonita 2004). Colleagues claimed she created an atmosphere of anxiety and distrust. Rehnquist resigned from her position after the report uncovered numerous unethical and illegal behaviors.

Political crimes, perhaps more than other white-collar offenses, tend to undermine essential elements of trust between the public and elected officials. The loss of faith in public officials increases citizen apathy and public cynicism. Moore and Mills (1990) noted:

Whenever citizens see corrupt public officials and other white-collar offenders violate the law with impunity they inevitably must question official integrity and commitment to fairness. In many ways, the greatest harm to the victims of white-collar crime may be this loss of faith in the very possibility of fair, impartial government. (pp. 414–415)

Women are obtaining more and more positions in the traditionally male-dominated political arena. It appears women are just as likely as men to take advantage of an imperfect system.

Future Directions

The United States has seen a substantial increase in the number of women who have assumed powerful leadership roles in political, corporate, judicial, and academic spheres. The primary hypothesis to explore in empirical work is will women engage in more ethical behavior and commit fewer illegal activities compared to male counterparts? Fukuyama (1998) asserted that men tended to be more aggressive, engage in more violence, and seek dominance through competition at a higher rate than women. Fukuyama noted “a world run by women would follow different rules” and as women gain power, countries and leaders will become less “aggressive, adventurous, competitive, and violent.” Some previous research supports the idea that women may act differently and value relationships, personal and professional, to a higher degree than men. Perhaps women will be successful at developing a sense of community and connectedness to the corporate and political worlds, though the argument is growing increasingly weak as the number of women white-collar offenders increases (Dodge 2009).

Stereotypes that women are more trustworthy and ethical compared to men are common, though evidence these female characteristics actually exist is equivocal. Researchers find that women and men share similar work values and are similar in their perceptions of ethical and unethical behavior (Kidwell et al. 1987). A reasonable extrapolation from the acts of embezzlement by women would suggest in higher positions females would be just as likely to engage in white-collar crime under the right circumstances. In fact, discriminatory practices in job placement and salaries may contribute to more women committing white-collar offenses as opportunities widen. Women in positions of authority in the business world are rare and they are unlikely to be placed as supervisors with demanding responsibilities (Alkadry and Tower 2011). In 2011, only 12 women served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Women, nevertheless, are moving into high-level business and political positions.

The controversies over workplace behavior are far from resolved. Arguments related to females as the more ethical gender in business further perpetuates gender-based stereotypes. The idea that women will enter into traditionally masculine positions, which demand assertiveness, risk-taking, and competitive behavior, and not commit white-collar crime is questionable. Women face the same strain and demands as men. West and Zimmerman (1987) introduced the theory of “doing gender,” which is the “activity of managing situated conduct in light of normative conceptions of attitudes and activities appropriate for one’ sex category” (p. 127). Both men and women actively monitor their behavior to ensure they will be perceived not simply as male or female but also as masculine, feminine, or neither. Corporate officers, both male and female, must do gender in ways that support their career activities (West and Zimmerman 1987). The combination of formal organizational forces and informal occupational values creates a social world which emphasizes masculinity. Women in the workplace find ways of doing gender; whether or not this is accomplished by adapting masculine methods is unknown. The combination of formal organizational forces and informal occupational values centered on machismo and competence creates a social world which relishes masculinity (Herbert 1998).

In 2006, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packer, was named by Fortune as the “Most Powerful Woman in Business.” Fiorina was quick to express her displeasure of being placed in a special category that differentiated women from men, though she acknowledged the higher level of scrutiny and criticism females face in business. Fiorina (2006) noted her thoughts about being the most power woman in the corporate world: “I’ve never been a man” and I never thought of myself as a woman in business. I’ve thought of myself as a person doing business who happens to be a woman (p. 145). In her book, Tough Choices, she described her impression about her imminent firing:

I knew the announcement would be big news. I was a woman, and a bold one at that, and things had always been different for me. All the criticisms that have ever been leveled against me would be recycled and thrown back in my face with new delight: “She’s too flashy.” “She’s just marketing fluff.” “She’s too controlling.” “She’s a publicity hound.” “She’s imperious, vindictive and employees didn’t like her.” “It would be ugly and it would be personal.” (p. xii)

Fiorina believes she was never able to escape the label of “Female CEO,” and the media was preoccupied with describing her dress, hair, or clothing rather than her business acumen. She was routinely described as a bimbo, a bitch, too soft, too hard, and too ambitious (Fiorina 2006).

Women in high-status position are placed in a no-win situation. Rhode (1989) labeled the circumstances as a double bind: “Women are criticized for being too feminine or not feminine enough. Those who conform to accepted stereotypes appear to lack ideas or initiative, while women who take more assertive stances are judged arrogant, aggressive, or abrasive” (pp. 169–170). In the cases of Stewart, Brooks, and Helmsley, they were praised for their business acumen until accusations of white-collar crimes became public. Perceptions of these women, despite some known character flaws, turned to negative feminine stereotypes that described their personalities and behavior – which rarely happens with male offenders (Dodge 2009).

Women face many professional barriers that prevent them from seeking or obtaining upper management positions. Work and family responsibilities often clash and demanding corporate jobs with long hours are problematic. Men hold leadership positions in most professions and cultural views about suitability for leadership roles may exclude women. Societal and organizational subcultures present a significant barrier for women and perpetuate marginalization (Schein 1992). Additionally, the isolation women experience in male-dominated professions can limit access to upper-level positions. Females, on the one hand, often are excluded from informal mentoring networks within the organization (Gold 1999). On the other hand, women who are able to penetrate and become part of the boys club may learn that being a member of the inner circle demands cooperation and, sometimes, illegal behavior.

Many women who have committed white-collar crime are forgotten after the initial media hoopla. Martha Stewart’s comeback after her felony convictions and short prison term demonstrated the business acumen that gave rise to her empire. While Stewart may have experienced a type of reintegrative shaming that overcame the stigma of being a criminal, as described by Australian criminologist John Braithwaite, Helmsley never recovered from the negative perceptions and continued to bully people after her release from prison.

White-collar crimes committed by women continue to surpass those of the past in terms of financial theft and offense seriousness. White-collar crimes, unethical or illegal, are committed to increase personal and corporate wealth. Such acts are no longer limited to men, and women are taking their place at a steady pace as opportunity and motive become more readily available.


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