I teach a group of business students about the legal environment of business and business ethics. There has been quite a bit posted about Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and her new book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”. I told my students about her efforts. Here I would like to align our basic business law and ethics teachings with Sandberg’s Lean In ideas.
I shared 3 ethical thoughts highly regarded in business with my students last week:
- Immanuel Kant , Philosopher (1724-1804)
- To be ethical requires that you act with good intent consistently
- Never act in a certain way unless you are willing to have everyone else act in the same way
- Make no exceptions for your own actions
- Do onto others as you would do onto yourself
- John Rawls, Harvard Professor of Ethics (1921-2002)
- Social Contract Theory
- Let’s place ourselves behind a “Veil of Ignorance”
- To think ethically, you must lose the assumption that what you personally need or want is necessarily morally correct
- Pretend you do not know your age, gender, race, intelligence, strength, wealth, or social status
- Inequalities must be based on what a person does, not on who a person is, and everyone must have an equal opportunity for achievement
- Barbara Tuchman, Historian (1912-1989)
- We suffer from “a loss of moral sense, of knowing the difference between right and wrong, and being governed by it”
- We suffer from a lack of integrity
These ethical thoughts can be applied to race, age, and gender bias – i.e. ethical problems in the workplace. With respect to ethics, we all want others to be ethical – no gender, age, race bias. Is that desire a pie in the sky?
Perhaps we should strategically plan to focus more on what we can control – “ourselves”. Last week, Anne-Marie Slaughter of The NY Times described Sandberg’s Lean In as a teaching of how excuses like gender bias and justifications will not get women anywhere. Is the existence of gender bias merely an excuse for our shortcomings?
I agree with Sandberg, Rawls, Tuchman and Kant. It’s all good. More importantly, at the end of the day, we have to live with our own individual values. Despite the fact that society at large and many places of work lack moral sense and integrity, women have to believe in themselves and have to confidence to know that they can have equal opportunity for achievement. In my opinion, there is always a need for introspection on how both women and men in the workplace can do better, lean in, and become better leaders by taking good, long hard looks in our mirrors! We all need to self-SWOT and take inventory of how to increase our strengths and opportunities; and decrease our weaknesses and threats.
Clovia Hamilton, JD, LLM President
Lemongrass Consulting Inc.
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