College of Business {College of Business}

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Exploring ethical behavior in business

News + Events : Exploring ethical behavior in business

10/26/2010

The
College of Business kicked off its fifth annual Business Ethics Week
Oct. 26 to Nov. 3 with a full slate of classes and guest speakers to
create a focus among students and faculty on business ethics, corporate
social responsibility and sustainable business.
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A photo of the business building.

Assistant Professor of Management Denise Kleinrichert, who
specializes in business ethics, and Professor of Management Murray
Silverman
recently discussed the state of business ethics and its
importance in education.

 

 

 

What is business ethics?

Denise Kleinrichert: Ethics goes back to
philosophical ways of thinking about our behavior and how we make
decisions about ourselves and others, and extends to corporate
environments. Corporate decision making is not only informed by
regulatory issues related to certain business practices, but by ethical
standards or principles that have been honed over the years regarding
decisions that are fair and equitable.

Murray Silverman: People in every business have
ideas about what is right and wrong that are different from one
another. The way to create an ethical culture at a company is to start
by encouraging an ongoing dialogue about what it means to be ethical.

How does a business or employee deal with differing ideas of what is ethical?

DK:  Everybody understands what honesty means.
Whether it is practiced is another issue. In issues of bribery, what
constitutes a bribe in this particular business setting versus another?
Is a gift a bribe? Differences of opinion can occur, but it’s an
opportunity to have a rich dialogue about what that means for the
organization. Sometimes, ethics conversations can be seen as forbidden
because people are afraid of differences of opinion about what is
ethical.

How do ethics fit with ideas of social responsibility and sustainable business?

MS: Ethics is like a ground floor. You can have a
company that's ethical, but doesn’t go beyond the norms of ethics and
law to think of ways to engage the community or the environment. Social
responsibility means going beyond the law and extending the company in
terms of doing good things for stakeholders that they don’t really
have to do. I see social responsibility as a way of looking for doing
good, whereas sustainability is looking to create a world that is
totally equitable and that creates no environmental harm.

DK: It’s ethical to be socially responsible, but
ethics doesn’t say you have to be socially responsible. Social
responsibility is an ethical practice because it goes beyond laws and
norms. It’s having that vision and positioning an organization in a
positive direction.

How do you prepare students to face ethical dilemmas in the real world?

DK: We try to pass along that these are real
problems. We wrestle with case studies and it brings a lot of
discussion from the students as they think, ‘wow, I could face this.’ A
lot of students expect business to be much more concrete, but they
realize the world isn’t that concrete. I sometimes tell my students if
you have to make a decision quick, think, “what if this decision
appeared as the main story on the front of the New York Times,” would
that give you pause? If so, then that’s a quick assessment that you
need to take the time to think that through. 

MS: I focus on what organizations can do. You
can’t make everyone be ethical. I’m sure Kenneth Lay and people at
Enron went to business school and they studied ethics. It didn’t make
them more ethical, because a lot of behaviors relate to opportunity and
peer pressure. If you are running an organization or a business of
your own, then you should think about creating a culture that is
ethical. There are many parts to that, the biggest part of bringing
people together to create dialogue. What are the situations that come
up? You have to come at it from both ends.

How have students reacted to Business Ethics Week?

DK: I have found that people here are interested
in engaging in dialogue and discussing these issues. I think that
openness lends itself to that sort of dialogue about what’s happening
with the environment or community challenges. Our students want to be
the drivers of Business Ethics Week, and they're embracing the
opportunity to engage with corporate leaders about ethics and
sustainability. 

For more information about Business Ethics Week, visit: http://cob.sfsu.edu/cob/business-ethics/

-- Michael Bruntz


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