Academic journal article Competition Forum

On Ethics and Competitiveness: Understanding Business Graduate Students' Perceptions

Academic journal article Competition Forum

On Ethics and Competitiveness: Understanding Business Graduate Students' Perceptions

Article excerpt


At no greater time in the history of our world market economy has ethics played such an important role in our competitive advantage. In this study, graduate business students rated 20 unethical workplace behaviors in terms of moral wrongfulness. Understanding the perceptions of the students - who will become our future business leaders - will positively impact how we tailor our educational objectives and how we manage and work with individual differences in organizations. Ratings were compared across gender and across domestic versus international students (primarily from India). Both comparisons were statistically significant and follow-up analyses identified individual items that were rated differently across the groups. Implications from these findings for future research, education, and management of organizations are discussed.

Keywords: Unethical workplace behaviors, Business student perceptions, Gender differences, Cultural differences


In the past decade, we have witnessed the collapse of giants such as Enron, Worldcom, and Arthur Andersen. Recently, we have seen major financial firms such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers collapse, leading to the so-called meltdown of global financial markets. The very recent passage of the Wall Street Reform Bill, which calls for transparency, accountability, and governance of the banking and finance industry, clearly denotes a refocus on ethics in business. Goldman Sachs is under investigation for unethical practices. Bernard Madoff has become a household name for his activities that created the largest Ponzi scheme in history and cost clients over $50 billion. Many are calling the financial recession an ethics recession (Kidder, 2009) because of the lapse in moral character and ethically sound judgment that undermines the crisis. Business ethics continues to be an undeniably important subject and is fundamental to a competitive global market.

How has our current financial and business ethics climate affected the perception and views of our future business leaders? In this study, we asked graduate business students to rate the moral wrongfulness of unethical workplace behaviors generated from the literature. We examined differences across gender and across American students versus non-U.S. students and also how these results compare to results from prior similar studies =pre-Enron'. Understanding the perceptions of business students helps to not only understand if our business education is succeeding, but it also helps us tailor our curriculum to fit and adapt to our changing student body.

DeGeorge (2006) defines ethics as "the systematic attempt to make sense of our individual and social moral experience, in such a way as to determine the rules that ought to govern human conduct, the values worth pursuing, and the character traits deserving development in life. (p. 19-20). Many studies have examined the perceptions of business students on unethical workplace behaviors or dilemmas and reported differences across biographical variables such as age, gender, country of origin, and major. Again, understanding the general differences in perceptions across demographic lines can aid in tailoring our education and in how we manage and work with individual differences.

Gender differences continue to fascinate researchers of ethics because of the changing gender demographics of the workforce. As a greater proportion of women are in leadership roles in companies, will global markets and economies exhibit overall more ethical practices and behaviors? Another reason gender continues to be investigated is that studies have not been conclusive, results have been mixed, but generally the body of research demonstrates a tendency for females to respond more ethically than males to ethical dilemmas or to deem behaviors as more unethical. In a large, nationally representative survey study done by Patterson and Kim (1991), it was found that less than half as many women as men reported believing that the only way to get ahead was to cheat. …

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