When out in the business world, building your career, where will you draw the line?
If you have very strong beliefs about a specific issue, then it’s going to be easier for you to push back when you’re faced with a business situation that challenges those beliefs. One example is an HBS student who is an activist for safe practices in the cosmetics industry. When she received a recruiting email from a large cosmetics company, she called them to the carpet. That situation likely seemed totally black and white to her, however others feel that she may have crossed a line in terms of obligations to her school and their work building relationships with recruiters.
One way that we think about ethics is, in the tension between doing what benefits you as an individual, versus what benefits others, which action do you choose? This may be overly simplistic but it can often help to look at decisions through that lens.
If you’re a vegetarian, then you probably don’t try to convert all the meat-eaters in your life to your way of living. However, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to ask if there will be vegetarian options at the restaurant when your boss invites you out for dinner.
What if it’s a big important client meeting at a steakhouse? Are you OK with going along with it and watching everyone around you eating cow?
What if you’re a consultant and you’re asked to take a project at one of the big meat suppliers? How do you handle that?
Does your answer change if it’s your very first assignment at a new job?
Walking through these scenarios can be helpful, so that you know yourself better, and are not caught off guard if (when) something like this comes up. The way you envision your response in a mental simulation is likely going to be quite different when you’re actually faced with a critical situation and there are stakes involved (or steaks? hahaha couldn’t help it). But exercising the mental muscle and at least imagining yourself in the position of having to stand up for your beliefs can be helpful preparation. It’s good to know where you draw the line on what you will or won’t do.
Most ethical questions are much more nuanced than this. We were talking about advertising here on the blahg the other day. At one point, long long ago in our past, EssaySnark worked in advertising – and we were exposed to some intellectual arguments on how advertising is essentially the cause of many of society’s sins, based on how it feeds consumerism and makes us shallow and superficial. At the time, we felt some pangs of conflict. We believe(d) those things about advertising – yet in the day-to-day of earning a living, it was easy to push aside and just do the job. “What difference does one person make?” is the common excuse. That line of reasoning can lead you down a very slippery slope if you’re not careful. It’s in the same category of, “I was just doing what my boss told me to do” or, “It’s what everyone else was doing”, in terms of reasons people offer for bad behavior that in retrospect, after the sh!t hits the fan, will sound pretty darn lame.
Bschool will give you plenty of opportunities to explore new fields and different options for your future than you ever considered. Most top MBA programs also include at least a cursory discussion of ethics and leadership somewhere along the way. Examining your internal value system for what’s non-negotiable – before you are faced with having to compromise on those values – can be useful.
Of course, that’s hard to do in a vacuum – so here’s some self-assessment tools to help out!
- Integrity and Business Test – focuses on how honest are you in a work situation (warning: it’s a little long and will take you at least 10 minutes to go through it)
- University of Texas Decision-Making Test – interesting scenarios!
- How Ethically Intelligent Are You? – offers real-life business situations and explains what the “right” thing to do is in each