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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2019 The Next Carson Coug

Business Ethics Training Helps Students Give Voice to Values

Story by Sue McMurray • Photo by Laura Dutelle

From left, Jane Cote, Billy Nguyen, and Claire Latham.

Ethical dilemmas in the workplace are like pop quizzes. They occur unexpectedly and with little warning. Business graduates have reported they often experience enormous stress, not with the technical aspects of their profession, but in many gray areas where their ethical values are challenged and they are not prepared to respond effectively. Some find these demands on them to be so overwhelming they change employers or leave the profession entirely.

These initial experiences can create lasting effects on new graduates, say WSU Vancouver professors Jane Cote and Claire Latham. As a result, they introduced Giving Voice to Values (GVV) into the Carson College undergraduate accounting curriculum.

GVV is a framework developed by Mary Gentile, a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, for addressing workplace conflicts. GVV provides tools to move from recognizing ethical conflicts to speaking up when confronted with conflicts. GVV has three main modules: understanding yourself, understanding others, and crafting strategy. Exercises in each module instill awareness and self-confidence.

“Through this organized framework, students refine the tools they can draw upon to be prepared to meet the challenges inherent in all workplace settings,” says Cote.

Capstone Course Offers Key Strategies for Ethical Actions

While the GVV framework has successfully been employed in Carson accounting classes for about six years, assessment showed students still struggle with delineating a course of action when faced with an ethical dilemma or values challenge. The Next Carson Coug curriculum will address this concern by ensuring all Carson students will understand how to act ethically and professionally. With the support of a Smith Teaching and Learning Grant, Cote and Latham launched a capstone accounting course that incorporates the GVV framework to help students refine strategies for the types of situations they will face in the accounting profession.

Students participate in several scenarios to build “muscle memory” that helps them be more reflexive when presented with ethical challenges. An important step in this process is for students to identify their own professional vision. When writing a statement of professional purpose, they define the reputation they want to have among future colleagues and outline an action plan to achieve it. The final GVV experience is a case-based role play conducted and scored by a panel of accounting professionals.

As newly minted graduates now in the workforce, capstone participants Sarah Moe and Billy Nguyen found the GVV training especially valuable.

“The GVV training hugely impacted the way I see and analyze common ethical dilemmas. For example, I was watching TV, and a hotel manager asked the receptionist to keep information secret from the police during an investigation. The scene ended and was never revisited,” says Moe. “I immediately started thinking, what if I was that receptionist? What would I do? This is how impactful the GVV training is.”

“It is difficult to voice your values to people in a higher position than you, especially when you are just fresh out of college with not much experience,” says Nguyen. “The GVV training prepared me with different strategies, such as scripting in advance what I would say during an ethical conflict. The program is exactly what I needed during my senior year at WSU.”

A Model to Benefit Any Discipline

Beyond the Carson College, many seek to prepare students for careers in all areas of science, journalism, government, and more, where new entrants will be confronted with circumstances that cross the boundaries of ethical and moral values.

“This model may be incorporated across the business curriculum, especially in areas such as information security, financial analysis, and professional sales and marketing where ethical boundaries are often challenged,” says Latham. “Our approach can be tailored beyond business to any discipline, and we are available to share the GVV pedagogy with colleagues across the University, either by providing materials or conducting a workshop forum for those interested in developing this content.”