Communities of Practice Fostering Moral Strength in the Workplace: An Example in Silicon Valley

by Leslie E. Sekerka, Ph.D.
Menlo College, Atherton, CA

Communities of Practice (CoP) are an important means of sharing information and fostering development among business ethicists. An exemplary model of a particularly effective CoP is the Business Ethics Partnership at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics in the Silicon Valley. The design of this CoP is specifically geared toward the promotion of collaborative discourse between executives and scholars. Meeting throughout the year, members and visiting guests increase their knowledge about how to effectively manage ethics in their own organizations. Founded in 2003, the group includes business leaders, academics, and practitioners who share a common goal of honing ethics and compliance practices and processes. Together, partners work to advance the state of business ethics by sharing common solutions and ideas, as they explore innovative ways of achieving ethical strength in the workplace. Partners have the advantage of efficiency and effectiveness, exchanging knowledge, keeping up with ethics education and policy news, and collaboratively working to address new and emerging ethical challenges.

Recently the CoP focused on how to cultivate productive discourse toward addressing discrimination and microagression in a proactive manner. Offering insights, Leslie Sekerka, Professor of Management and Ethics in Action Center Director at Menlo College (Atherton, CA), presented a workshop entitled “Fortifying Workplace Respect through Balanced Experiential Inquiry (BEI).” Partners and guests engaged in an adult learning process (BEI) to better understand and address Islamophobia and anti-Muslimism and other forms of discrimination. Dr. Sekerka underscored the critical nature of diverse work environments that encourage respect for all. Although a thoughtful regard for others is often assumed, this requires work to become an realized and sustained. Without respect, friction among coworkers can lead to ethical issues of discrimination, contributing to inequality and a lack of civility. The professor led the BEI session while also providing insights about how to conduct the process itself. Robert Shanklin, a philosophy lecturer at SCU (Santa Clara, CA), helped participants understand how seemingly little things —a string of offhand remarks or common assumptions— can lead to unhealthy cultures and even lawsuits. Participants in this session worked together to better understand how micro-aggressions can contribute to corporate culture problems and to consider how responses to such negativity can be more effective and ethically appropriate.

In all, the gathering helped members practice the use of tools that will help them lead and foster mindful awareness and respect toward others in their respective workplace environments. Participants left the session with a sense of how to respond to ethical challenges with moral courage through the use of specific moral competencies, skills that enable people to address
ethical issues like anti-Muslimism, with compassion and care.

Additional resources:
https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business ethics/programs/business-ethics- partnership/
http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319180892
http://www.innovativelearning.com/teaching/communities_of_practice.html