Research Focuses On Corruption And The Impact Of Women In Government


Written by: Ashley Green (cehdcomm@tamu.edu)
Post date: June 01, 2016

After spending 20 years working with nonprofit organizations both domestically and internationally, Catherine Cole wanted to study corruption as part of her doctoral dissertation. She spent three years researching corruption and its associated variables, specifically the impact women in government had on corruption.

“When I came back to do my Ph.D. in human resource development, I was interested in looking at corruption prevention from a different angle – not necessarily from putting controls in place, but looking at it from a human resource development perspective.”

A literature review found two foundational studies from 2001 that looked at corruption from a gender perspective. One study concluded the greater representation of women in government, the less severe corruption was in that government. The second study found women were less likely to participate in corrupt activities.

Cole found a gap in the literature regarding the effects of women on corruption and foreign direct investments. That focus is part of what makes her research a more comprehensive study regarding women and corruption.

“I wanted to be informed by human capital theory because I felt that human capital theory attempts to explain the relationship between investing in your people and corresponding financial indicators.”

Cole’s first analysis found results that both confirmed and contradicted the literature. She found a statistically significant relationship between higher numbers of women in parliament and lowered corruption. However, she did not find a direct relationship between corruption and foreign direct investments or a direct relationship between the number of women in parliament and foreign direct investments.

After an additional literature review, Cole ran the analysis again adding the variable expenses for health care. What she found was a significant indirect relationship between women and foreign direct investments through reduced corruption and increased health care expenses.

“This research provides empirical evidence on which human resource development practitioners may make recommendations, implement policies or make practice decisions. It justifies countries investing in their female human resources and developing that workforce.”

The hope is that, by crafting gender-specific interventions, human resource development practitioners can reduce gender inequalities, contribute to reducing corruption, increase the allocation of resources to health care and ultimately impact foreign direct investment.

To apply this research, Cole included recommendations to USAID’s Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance as related to fighting corruption through human resource development efforts.

“I was looking to shift thinking from what governments should be doing for women to women helping shape their own economies. I think it’s time to recognize women as potentially powerful human resources.”

She recommended the USAID strategy should begin by recognizing women as a potential contributor to anti-corruption efforts. Because women often lack the skills needed to participate in governmental leadership, Cole also recommended USAID should support national strategic and vertically integrated human resource development efforts. Cole also supports including a more targeted effort involving women, not just for equity reasons, but to reduce opportunities for corruption. For those countries that have already established reasonable governance policies, Cole recommends incentivizing those countries making strides recognizing and using women as anti-corruption tools.

“Women are not just beneficiaries. Women have strengths to offer. According to studies, they can be a powerful anti-corruption tool to not only help fight corruption but to also help contribute to the foreign direct investments countries attract. Previously, most people addressed the foreign direct investments issue by how it will benefit women. It should be how women benefit foreign direct investment and how women benefit anti-corruption efforts.”

Cole wants to make it clear that this research is not a moral judgment that women are better than men. She says this research provides empirical evidence that the more gender-equal governments are, the better they perform regarding corruption, the allocation of health care expenses and attracting foreign direct investment.

“I would love to contribute to expanding the conversation about women being seen as needing intervention and being recipients of aid to looking at them as having strengths and having the opportunity to – equally with men – participate in solutions for their own countries.”

Cole believes her dissertation has opened doors for future research on the topic of women and corruption. She believes future research exploring other variables, such as access to social networks and educational levels, may identify other influences on corruption. Other research may include analyzing the variables tested in Cole’s research in different ways.

Cole successfully defended her dissertation May 16, 2016, and will graduate in August.