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  • Written By: Paul Wedel
Oct 18, 2011

Giving Voice to Values – ethical education for business students

Giving Voice to Values – ethical education for business students

If business schools are teaching ethics, why are there so many business scandals and why are the culprits so often MBAs? These questions troubled Dr. Mary Gentile, a teacher of business ethics now a professor and researcher at Babson College. They were questions, she said, that had caused a crisis of despair in her own professional life.

But they were questions that sparked her to begin research into the ethical dilemmas faced by business people and the failure of traditional teaching to prepare them for those dilemmas. The result of that research has led to a new approach to teaching ethics she calls “Giving Voice to Values (GVV).”

Dr. Gentile, speaking at a workshop at the Asian Forum on CSR (AFCSR) in Manila, said that traditional teaching focuses on awareness of ethical situations, often through case studies, and analysis of ethical reasoning, often based on traditional philosophical approaches to ethics.

Although both awareness and analysis were needed, she said, they were insufficient to make much change in the way business was conducted in the real world outside of the classroom.

“We needed to shift from the question of what you should do to be ethical to how do you get it done, from moral judgment to implementation,” Dr. Gentile said. She said the practical questions of how to act in ethically challenging situations were the focus of the GVV teaching curriculum and materials. Instead of ending a case with deciding what would be the right thing to do, the GVV cases challenge the students to figure how to do it effectively – “what should be said to whom, what data should be collected, how to push back against unethical actions, how to create coalitions, how to voice action on ethical conduct,” she said.

This approach not only gave students the tools with which to deal with ethically difficult situations but also challenged the brightest students to use their knowledge of business and human behavior to come up with innovative ways to take action on ethics, she said.

“We are not trying to change people, but to help them do the things they already want to do,” she said.

The GVV approach gives students the tools, the practices, the coaching and most importantly, the rehearsal of ways to implement ethical behavior in difficult situations, Dr. Gentile said.

She said her work at Babson has begun to help large corporations, including a major US defense contractor, to use the GVV approach in their internal staff development training and that the feedback has been encouraging.

“We are showing them that taking effective ethical action is just another part of doing business – you have to be strategic and smart about it because ethical issues are not a special case, they are a regular part of business decision-making,” she said.

Dr. Gentile said that the GVV curriculum and materials were available free online to anyone interested in using them at http://www.babson.edu/faculty/teaching-learning/gvv/Pages/home.aspx

She said that while there may be differences in values between different cultures, there were some “hyper norms” that apply in all countries. In any case, she said, the approach starts with the students own values and concentrates on teaching them to put those into effective action within a company.

Dr. Gentile said that more data across cultures was being gathered by professors using it in countries such as India, China and Ghana and that this learning was being used to further develop the materials and cases available on line.

You can see videos of Dr. Gentile talking about the GVV curriculum 

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