Is Religion the Elephant in the Conference Room?

Management students typically study the theories of Aristotle and Kant in their ethics classes ostensibly to develop a good foundation of right and wrong in business. But Case Western Reserve University organizational behavior expert Susan Case, PhD, says such secular teachings are too far removed from America's traditional Judeo-Christian values to have much meaning in real life, and so remain an abstraction when future business leaders enter the workplace.

"An ethics course does not necessarily get people to act more ethically," she says. Case, who was raised in the Jewish tradition, co-authored a chapter for the newly released Handbook of Research on Teaching Ethics in Business and Management Education with Jaye Goosby Smith, a Christian-bred, two-time Weatherhead School graduate now at Pepperdine University. Christian, Jewish and Muslim texts, the pair says, each contain passages that not only mention business, but also lay out guiding principles for marketplace integrity; the dignified and respectful treatment of employees; social responsibility; and environmental ethics and stewardship.

Incorporating texts from the Torah, Qur'an and Bible into management ethics classes, Case says, would give students better grounding in how to behave uprightly in the business world, as opposed to focusing only on the theoretical values of philosophers. This way, she says, management courses would show students how to use their own moral compasses to make business decisions, rather than become artificially detached from those values at work.

"We're told we're supposed to leave our values of what's right and wrong at the door because somehow business is supposed to be secular," Case says, emphasizing that scandals like the banking crisis, WorldCom and Enron came about in part because people who may have behaved with integrity in the rest of their lives checked their moral hats at the corner office door, rather than letting their values guide them in the business world

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