Preparing students to be ethical decision makers
Ethics, business decision making, and how we educate future leaders has become the subject of much discourse particularly since the 2007–2009 near collapse of the world's financial markets. This study identified the need for ethics education in graduate and post graduate education and was approached from the perspective of current and former students. This phenomenological study, grounded in institutional theory, addressed how an ethical interpretive framework becomes institutionalized. The research question explored the need for ethics education and elements of ethical decision making in business that can be standardized and taught to graduate and post-graduate students. Data were collected by surveying 40 current and former graduate and post-graduate business students located throughout the United States and Canada. The data from the surveys were analyzed using qualitative data analyzing software and were coded to identify themes. Three themes emerged: (a) ethics as part of business education; (b) approaches to ethical decision making; and (c) balancing the needs of business with stakeholder interest. Factors that participants considered important when making ethical business decisions included: analyzing the situation, identifying the principles related to the situation, identifying the relevant resources to assist with the decision making, considering the need for further information or clarification, identifying the options, choosing the best option, taking action, and evaluating the decision. Based on these findings, offering a structured approach that considers the factors of ethical decision making would have far reaching and ongoing benefits for business and academia. Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations
The primary assumption is that decision making is a fundamental responsibility for middle- to senior-level corporate leaders. Academia is uniquely positioned to teach future leaders to consider ethics in business decision making. Current and former business students are positioned to evaluate the ethics training they received. No significant difference would be found in the responses of men and women, nor would the size of the academic institution participant's attended would affect participant responses.
A researcher conducting a phenomenological study seeks to understand an individual's lived experiences (Moustakas, 1994). This study sought to understand how business education addressed ethics and ethical decision making from the perspective of current and former business graduate students. Therefore, analysis of participants’ responses was based upon their perceptions, feelings, and beliefs, and was limited by these factors. This study was limited to those individuals with whom the researcher is affiliated. Study participant pool was limited to this group so that the study would remain narrowly focused and gain an increased level of participation and openness.
Only current and former business students at the graduate and doctoral level were included in this study. Perspectives of students below the graduate level were not included. Forty participants contributed to this study. No attempt was made to draw comparisons across gender or other demographic categories.
Definition of Terms
Business ethics: A form of applied ethics. It aims at inculcating a sense within a company's employee population about how to conduct business responsibly (International Business Ethics Institute, 2012).
Ethical decision making: Discretionary decision making behavior that defines how struggles in human interests are to be settled and enhanced for the collective benefit of those living and working together in groups (Husted & Allen, 2008).
Stakeholders: Those who have an interest in the decisions and actions of a company: clients, employees, shareholders, suppliers and the community (International Business Ethics Institute, 2012).
Ethics, Academia, Corporate Social Responsibility, Decision Making, Leadership, Stakeholder Interest, Financial Misconduct.