Symposium encourages students to be ethical in business

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Heavener Business Ethics Ambassadors, which assist the Poe Business Center at the Warrington College of Business, hosted the Ethics in the Workplace Symposium on Wednesday night.

The event gave seniors an opportunity to accept an oath to be ethical in their future business ventures. They signed cards pledging be ethical business leaders and were encouraged to keep the card as a reminder of the oath. With graduation coming later this month, this event punctuated the importance of being ethical before transitioning into their careers.

“Graduation is an incredibly important transition for undergraduate students,” said Dr. Brian Ray, Lecturer of Leadership and Ethics and the co-director of the Poe Business Ethics Center. “In addition to feelings of trepidation, students are also reflective in a very positive way. For students to have an oath that focuses on ethics and solid moral reasoning provides them an opportunity to recommit themselves as they begin their professional careers.

“It is an opportunity to promise themselves and their peers that their professional conduct will bring honor to the Warrington College of Business and the University of Florida. The Business Ethics Ambassadors understand the importance of peers promoting solid values to one another. This type of program and others like it are the perfect forum to build momentum on the journey toward the ethical high ground.”

Two roundtable discussions served as the focus of the event. Both tables had a Business Ethics Ambassador to lead conversation about a different ethical business issue. Students talked about two issues per table before coming together as a group to talk about the fifth issue.

One conversation was about an employee theft and how students would handle the topic in a real-world setting. It was based on an article from BusinessPracticalKnowledge.com that spoke about what employees steal, why employee theft matters and ways to prevent employee theft from happening at all. The article and roundtable discussion also spoke to ways students could handle employee theft from leadership positions in their future.

Another conversation focused on an article from MaxQ Technologies about supply chain management disasters and how they impact businesses. Students engaged in conversation about different supply chain disasters mentioned in the article and talked through ways it could be handled ethically by management.

A third conversation highlighted a Bloomberg article about Wells Fargo bank employees opening accounts without customers’ approval to satisfy sales goals and earn financial rewards. The unethical actions resulted in the company paying $185 million. Students at this table talked through the situation and spoke of ways to handle it and avoid similar problems happening in the future.

Another conversation talked about a CNN article that took a different angle on the Wells Fargo issues. The article said some Wells Fargo employees tried to put a stop to those illegal actions, but they were fired for speaking out. A former Wells Fargo banker was fired eight days after reporting the activity. The table conversations focused on the actions students could take in similar occurrences.

A final conversation talked about a CNN article addressing claims that electronic devices are invading privacy and are hackable without companies properly protecting the data. They spoke to what was ethical in this realm, and what lengths companies should go to while protecting the information.

Business Ethics Ambassadors in charge of each table tried to put students in the middle of the ethical dilemma and challenge their thinking on what would be the correct way to handle it.

“Our goal in running the symposiums is to emphasize the importance of maintaining ethics in careers after college,” said Jaimee Katz, who served as a Business Ethics Ambassador for the event. “By exposing students to ethical dilemmas in the workforce and making them aware of the consequences that can stem from the decisions they make as employees, participants obtain greater insight into the content of the oath before actually signing it.

“For our first symposium, I am extremely pleased with the turnout. Participants showed a lot of enthusiasm in the discussions, and we received positive feedback. The concept of an ethical oath is something the Business Ethics Ambassadors have talked about for a long time. As I watched participants sign the oath at the conclusion of the symposium, it was awesome to see our vision finally become a reality.”

The event tried to put students around as many ethical issues as possible, preparing them for the future when they’ll have to make ethical decisions in the business world during their careers.

“I thought that the Ethics Oath Symposium was a successful and insightful event,” said Heather Blum, the current president of the Business Ethics Ambassadors. “I believe that all students should participate before they graduate or before an internship to understand the varying ethical dilemmas they may face when entering the working world. Signing the oath and having it on a card, in my wallet, will always carry with me this reminder to follow my moral compass.”

Event leadership plans to expand future symposiums with additional components and more participants.