Sheryl Sandberg and Business Ethics

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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.


Book me to speak on Business Law & Ethics!

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Clovia Hamilton is an entrepreneur with 30 years of professional work experience as an adjunct biz law & ethics professor, university technology transfer specialist, engineer and planner. Clovia is a licensed patent attorney and completed an Executive MBA at Wesleyan College. Her next pursuit is a Phd in Mangt and she supports The Phd Project, American Association of University Women (AAUW), and Women in Public Policy (WIPP)! Clovia has trained hundreds of business owners since 1999 when she began to assist the Univ of IL in Champaign with faculty high tech start ups. She has also assisted hundreds of small biz owners by training them on how to get government grants and contracts.

4 Comments to “Sheryl Sandberg and Business Ethics”

  1. Jackie says:

    Hi Clovia! I really enjoyed this blog post. Not often enough do we see philosophy and ethics talked about in our business world. It’s refreshing to see that these thinkers still have real life applications and are not just for baristas. I hope to see more blog posts from you.

    • Clovia says:

      You are right Jackie. Most USA business schools require a class in business law and ethics. I suspect that the students forget most of it – – I encourage my students to continue to think of the concepts they learn while they are practicing professionals. Fortunately, there are professors such as Skip Ames at Troy University who are devoted to teaching business law and ethics.

  2. Ana says:

    Very importante messages that we can retain reading this assertive post. Thanks for sharing those 3 ethical thoughts, they are useful and inspiring. Could not agree more with: “increase our strengths and opportunities; and decrease our weaknesses and threats”.

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