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

What are we professors to do? Are we better than VW?

As members of the Academy, we each hold responsibility in upholding our professional ethics. Once the ‘egg is broken’, it will be very hard to re-establish public confidence. VW, for instance, will undoubtedly have a long road in convincing the public that their organization acts in an ethically responsible way. While the public seemed to quickly forgive GM for their ignoring a faulty ignition problem, they are less willing to forgive systemic premeditated corruption. We have seen the flashback from the American Psychological Association regarding members advising how best to conduct torture having an impact on their community. In short, many of these professional ethical issues have a way of impacting our field for the long run.

In the last posting, Greg Stephens AOM’s onbudperson, outlined a range of issues they examine, with instructions regarding how to proceed should you have a professional ethics dilemma. They do a fantastic job, often behind the scenes, and we should be very appreciative of their hard work.

Of course, these issues are primarily only of relevance to things that happen in and around the Academy of Management. If you observe something at another conference, or at a non AOM sponsored journal, well, there may be few if any options for you to pursue.

A  AOM recent censure ruling, the first I ever recall seeing, included the sanctioning of an academy member. Professor Andreas Hinterhuber had submitted a previously published paper for consideration at the upcoming Annual Meeting. The ruling was as follows:

The final sanctions include disqualification from participation in Academy of Management activities (including but not limited to submission to the conference, participation on the conference program, serving the Academy or any of its Divisions or Interest Groups in an elected or appointed role, or submission to any of the Academy of Management journals) for a period of three (3) years, public notice of the violation through publication in the AcadeMY News; formal notification to the journal where the work was previously published, and ethics counseling by the Ombuds Committee.

Seeing a public and formal sanction is a good professional start, and I applaud our organization for taking the trouble to demonstrate that we have professional limits that should be honored. However, what if  Professor Andreas Hinterhuber were found to have done the same thing at, say, EGOS, or BAM? Of what about someone who submits a paper simultaneously to two different journals for review? Would the consequences be the same? Likely not.

It would seem to me that we would all benefit from a larger professional ‘tent’ whereby public notice of violations and censure were more systematically discussed. I find it very odd that, out of 20,000 members, it is so rare for us to have a public censure (this is the first I am aware of – although there may have been other non-public consequences). Every year I hear of multiple cases of doctors and lawyers getting disbarred.  The odds are presumably the same for our profession, but the consequences far less, and the frequency of public humiliation quite rare. This would only provide incentives to engage in unprofessional conduct.  I am not suggesting we begin a yellow journalistic finger pointing exercise. Only that given the rise in competition, and the important stakes involved in our profession, we should collectively think about professional monitoring, public dialog, and the provision of clear ethical guidelines in our doctoral and professional career development.

Your thoughts on the matter are welcome.

Ethical Issues in Professional Life: Codes and Conflicts of Interest

Blog No. 2011-01 (October 1, 2011)

What’s My Domain?  Everything Else

Welcome again to the ethics blog, this time from your journalist on “professional life” issues.  Compared to research or teaching, it may be more difficult to define this sphere of ethical issues.

For me, research evokes a process of reading, analyses, writing, presenting, submitting to editors (and in my case, often re-submitting after editorial rejection) and publishing pieces for a variety of outlets: journals, books, book chapters, working papers, policy reports, case studies and other scholarly purposes.  The ethical issues this process raises are myriad, but the process has an intuition that many can grasp pretty easily.

Continue reading “Ethical Issues in Professional Life: Codes and Conflicts of Interest”