A shared experience: Ethics and professionalism in the PSU School of Business

In fall 2019, the Graduate Business Programs student services team released new documents outlining shared community expectations around professionalism, leadership and ethics. While an important step toward defining these values and helping students decode and examine the concept of “professionalism,” work is still needed. Current GBP candidates Alex Box, Ariella Frishberg, and Jose Bracho Zabala are part of a student-led team charged with gathering their peers’ feedback in order to revise these documents and discover how program leadership can better incorporate these values into the student experience.

How is a code of ethics and professionalism important to your program experience?

Alex Bok: The code of ethics and professionalism is meant to assist students with understanding their behavior and how that looks in a professional environment, whether that be at school or in the workplace. Having a baseline of what professionalism is, and what the expected rules of behavior are will allow for improved communication, working relationships and practical learning opportunities for students.

Ariella Frishberg: A code of ethics is a way of solidifying expectations for culture within the program. When the institution doesn’t communicate the values it expects, cohorts end up creating their own cultural norms. Unfortunately, that process is often done by default instead of intentionally— those with the loudest voices end up setting the expectations and shaping the experiences of everyone in the cohort. It is essential for The School of Business to make clear what is expected of members of our community, and to do it in a thoughtful way so that underrepresented voices aren’t left out of the conversation. This is especially important when it comes to defining the concept of “professionalism,” which is a coded term often used to gatekeep the business world.

Jose Bracho Zabala: Ethics should be the context in which business professionals perform their duties. Unethical practices have had severe ramifications for both companies and society. As the workplace becomes more diverse and inclusive, it is essential that employees feel that their values and needs are represented. A code of ethics and professionalism that guides students in their labor while also being inclusive is imperative.

How will your peers’ voices be involved in this revision process?

AB: We are using a variety of platforms to engage students. One platform, the weekly PSU Business Newsletter, has been useful at engaging peers. Our group has been putting a singular question in the newsletter and will also attach a survey later in May. In addition to posting the survey in the newsletter, we will post it in cohort and student Facebook groups. We are also conducting “town hall” style forums through Zoom for students to talk about the code of ethics and what they would like to see in it. For all of these platforms, students have the option to schedule a 1:1 follow-up.

What motivated you to take a leadership role in revising the code?

AB: I took a leadership role in the code revision because I noticed it wasn’t being taken seriously by some students. My hope is that by adding student voices to the code, students will want to promote and model the positive behaviors that they addressed as being important to their time at PSU.

AF: I come from the nonprofit world with years of experience in leading and facilitating equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives. It is really important to me that the new code of ethics is created with an equity lens, so I jumped at the chance to contribute to the project.

JBZ: I hope to learn from different students’ perspectives to get a broader sense of the significance of professionalism and ethics.

What is an equity lens and how are you applying one to this project?

AF: An equity lens is a framework used to make sure that processes and eventual products meet the needs of everyone impacted by them, especially underrepresented and marginalized communities. We have modeled ours off of the tool created by Multnomah County, which refers to an equity lens as a “quality improvement tool.”

What do you hope your peers will gain from adding feedback to the code?

AB: I hope they have a feeling of ownership over the code and want to promote the behaviors they identified as positive to their learning environment.

AF: Adding a student voice and perspective to the code will make it more effective at communicating our shared values, and encourage participation. The code is really supposed to be about what it means to show up and be representative of PSU’s Graduate Business Programs. I hope that by contributing to the revision of that code and engaging with what it means to be part of this community, students can take pride in showing up and claiming their identity as a graduate of the PSU School of Business.

JBZ: I hope that my peers will have a code of ethics and professionalism that represents them so that they feel more included in the direction PSU’s Graduate Business Programs.

Current students can learn more about opportunities to add their voice to the code of ethics revision process.

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