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Ethics and business school

I keep coming back to this topic but the current state of affairs at business schools gives me no confidence that, as a society, we’re heading in the right direction.

A couple of days back, in my Ethics class, we had a hypothetical case.

My bank is trying to win the business of a Saudi oil company. The lead manager on the project is a woman. During the negotiation phase, she couldn’t travel to Saudi Arabia but her team informed the Saudis that their boss is a woman. This was obviously lost in translation. When the Saudis come to the US to sign the final contract, they balk and refuse to deal with a woman. Period. What do you do?

As we went around the class discussing what our options were, I was disturbed when I realized that no one was calling this out for what it was – discrimination, plain and simple. There were suggestions that the female executive should be compensated for her work and put on a different project, with promises of lucrative assignments in the future. There was appreciation for coming up with “creative solutions”.

The very idea that a CEO should throw his “undesirable employee” under the bus in order to appease a customer’s prejudice (call it “cultural values”) and money seems unpalatable, and frankly, disgusting. What was even more shocking was the fact that most of the students didn’t see it as a huge problem.

Earlier in the class, several students admitted that they wouldn’t hire a balding, bulging marketing manager with impeccable credentials because “looks are important” in marketing.

There’s a crop of tomorrow’s business leaders.

We’re all screwed.

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