Business Ethics Assignment


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A chosen topic related to Business and how chosen philosophies of European thought would have viewed such a business-related situation. The chosen topic was sexual harassment in the corporate setting and looks at the cognitive, utilitarian views, the deontologists and the views of Immanuel Kant.

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Business Ethics Assignment

  1. 1. Sexual Harassment inthe CorporateEnvironmentThe aim of this report is to discuss the contradictorysubject of sexual harassment in the corporateenvironment. It will initially discuss the socialimplications of the subject and to bring into play arange of contrasting moral and ethical standpoints fromwithin the framework of European moral thought tothe extent of: what advice would these ethicalviewpoints give to the allowing or disallowing sexualharassment in the workplace.
  2. 2. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate EnvironmentContentsExecutive Summary 2Literature Review 2Social Implications 3A Cognitive Approach 3What Advice the Differing Ethical Problems Would Offer 4Immanuel Kant 5Utilitarianism 6Deontology 8Conclusion 8References 9Code 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 1
  3. 3. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate EnvironmentExecutive SummaryThe aim of this report is to discuss the contradictory subject of sexual harassment in thecorporate environment. It will initially discuss the social implications of the subject and tobring into play a range of contrasting moral and ethical standpoints from within theframework of European moral thought to the extent of: what advice would these ethicalviewpoints give to the allowing or disallowing sexual harassment in the workplace.Literature ReviewIn a paper written by Apodaca&Kleiner (2001), sexual harassment is one of the mostcomplex and emotional issues to burden employers and HR professionals alike. Since theEEOC declared that sexual harassment is a violation of the Civil Rights Act 1964, law courtshave struggled to determine what constitutesas sexual harassment, when assessing cases ofclaims have been brought to trial, where individuals have believed to have been the victim ofa sexual harassment lawsuit. And in turn to which circumstances have arisen to whichemployers may incur financial liability, imposed by the judges whom have examined suchcases.It is clear, then, that there is a financial imperative to eliminate improper conduct as well as amoral one to their employees and contractors. Not doing so could result in significantly largefinancial liabilities for employers.In a study carried out by the European Commission, (1998) it revealed that there was anassociation between incidents of sexual harassment taking place and the work situation: thereport suggested that cases of sexual harassment occurred more regularly in male dominatedwork environments. However, Kohlman, (2004) put forward that sexual harassment bothoccurred in male as well as female dominated work situations. Veale and Gold, (1998)Code 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 2
  4. 4. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environmentconcluded that sexual harassment tends to be prevalent where there are significant powerdifferentials between colleges and subordinates.The Social Implications of Sexual HarassmentA Cognitive ApproachCognition means ‘knowing’. The study of cognitive psychology studies the way in whichhumans process information, the treatment of information that comes to a human being andhow this treatment leads to responses. It is the study of internal processes, language, memory,attention and thinking, (McLeod, 2007).The subject of sexual harassment bears the problem if it’s perceptual nature, (Popovich,1989; Tannen, 1990; Malovich and Stake, 1990). Men and woman differ in what theyperceive as sexual harassment, (Dunwoody-Miller and Gutek, 1985)In literature research, there have been two key reasons as to why employers have beenfinding it difficult to prevent sexual harassment occurring in their organisations: firstly therehas been the reason put forward by Gender Bias (1992), whom state that sexual harassment isdifficult to police because it contravenes man’s primitive desire to attract partners: men andwomen will be attracted to each other just as easily in the working environment as anywhereelse. Social implications of sexual harassment bring about the conflicts of the evolution ofmale and female reproductive interests (Arnquist and Rowe, 2005). Such conflict stems fromthe males reproductive success limited by the access to females, whereas the femalesreproductive success depends on the energetic resources available, (Emlen and Oring, 1977).This, in turn, comes from the asymmetry of costs in males and females. In the case of femalesthese costs are energetic costs, feeding opportunity costs, risk of preditation as well as risksof physical injury, thus it reduces the lifespan and increase the chances of mortalityCode 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 3
  5. 5. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment(Meaderand Gilburn, 2008) These evolutionary forces will continue to fuel the sexual conflictbetween male and female.Sexual harassment leads to employers possibly facing large financial liabilities incompensation claims but there are costs associated with such claims of which go beyond the‘dollars and cents’ which are to burden employers. In a paper written by Pearce &DiLullo(2001) workplaces which have seen cases of sexual harassment leads to lack of teamwork,poorer productivity, higher turnover, absenteeism, damaged reputation, lawsuits as well asrecruiting problems. They further state that an employee who has fallen victim to sexualharassment to feel disempowered, especially if there is no clear and acceptable avenue towhich to report such a case. Employer reputation is extremely important in today’s societywhere people switch from one employer to another during their careers.Michaels (1996), talks about the concept of the double society standard. This describes thescenario that people cannot go about their daily routines, without encountering some sort ofsexual reference in advertising and media however subliminal this may be, therefore creatinga stimuli to encourage sexually-oriented behaviours between people. At the same time,companies are required to, bylaw;maintain strict ‘Victorian’ standards of conduct betweenemployees and their peers and subordinates for fear of litigation.Discuss the ethical problem that you have identified and what advice thedifferent perspectives would offer.According to Hunt, et al (2010) there is a lack of consensus as to what constitutes as sexualharassment and is particularly the case when the examining of behaviours and circumstances,in which sexual harassment has believed to have occurred, comes under the microscope(Bimrose, 2004)Code 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 4
  6. 6. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate EnvironmentSexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination as a violation of the Title VII of the CivilRight Act 1964. It is a form of unwanted behaviour conducted by one person towards anotherand is generally focused on gender as supposed to their professional qualifications.Sexual harassment comes in two forms: these are quid pro quo and the ‘hostile workingenvironment’. The case of Mentor v. Vonson 1986 set the standard for quid pro quo. Quidpro quo describes the scenario of an individual putting a certain condition, or a desiredoutcome, in place in return for something of a sexual nature i.e. promotion, retention. In apaper written by Hunt et al, (2010), quid pro quo is a form of sexual harassment whereby anindividual in a corporate setting will make either an implicit or explicit move towards anotherindividual in return of a desired outcome, whereas the hostile working environment occurswhere individuals within a work environment make suggestive remarks of a sexual nature,jokes of a sexual nature, or making comments, drawings, cartoons of a sexual nature towardsa certain individual such as a colleague. Smolensky and Kleiner, (2003) state that the subjectof the HWE has been widely debated upon in terms of what constitutes as the HWE. Thisform of sexual harassment is more subtle than its counterpart and is often seen as a ‘greyarea’ of sexual harassment when examining cases of this nature.Sexual Harassment from the Perspective of Immanuel KantKant’s philosophy was that ‘each person thinks of themselves as a rational creature who isentitled to dignity and respect (Bowie, 2000). The Employment Equality (SexDiscrimination) Regulation defines sexual harassment as unwanted conduct (weather verbalor non-verbal or physical contact) that has the cause or effect of violating an individual’sdignity. It could be argued that this scenario contravenes Kant’s view on sexual gratification.In a paper written by Schrage (2005), Kant argues that sexual desire is an appetite for anotherhuman being, or, is an object of appetite for another. In writing, he stated that:Code 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 5
  7. 7. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment a person becomes a thing and can be treated and used as such by every one. This is the only case in which a human being is designed by nature as the Object of another’s enjoyment. Sexual desire is at the root of it; and that is why we are ashamed of it, and why all strict moralists, and those who had pretensions to be regarded as saints, sought to suppress and extirpate it. (Kant, 1963: 163–4)His philosophy is that any sexual act reduces another human being to an object for anotherperson’s enjoyment violates the rule for morality. The rule of morality encourages us to treatothers as ends in themselves and not as mere instruments. The Employment Equality (SexDiscrimination) Regulations further defines sexual harassment as an act with the effect ofcreating a degrading, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment for the victim.Kant then goes on to say that there is one condition to which one is free to make use of theirsexual desire. He says that this depends on the right to dispose over the other person as awhole but questions how one obtains these rights. He answers this questions that by givingthe other person the same right over one’s body in equal measure. However, this happensonly in marriage in the form of a matrimony agreement, by which they grant each other rightto the other person, by surrendering their body to the other person, with the complete right ofdisposal over the other person’s body, (NYtimes, 2012)The Case of Sexual Harassment from a Utilitarian PerspectiveThe Utilitarianism view is a consequentialist branch and is one of the better-known views ofconsequential ethical viewpoints. Utilitarianism is the doctrine that the morally correct courseof action that results in bringing about the greatest good for the greatest number, regardless ofthe distribution of benefits and burdens, should be chosen over alternative paths.Code 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 6
  8. 8. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate EnvironmentUtilitarianism is a theory that defines morality by net maximization of expected utility of allparties affected by the decision or action initiated by the agent (Wofford, 2012).Utilitarianism, as defined by Utilitarian, (2012), is the philosophy that has the policy that anaction or a decision carried out by an agent is the ‘right’ decision if it creates as much ormore of an increase in happiness to all those affected than it would have by an alternativeaction, and is the wrong decision or action if it does not have this affect.Further literature reviews by The Columbia Electronic Encyclopaedia (2007) states that thetheory of utilitarianism is the theory that the rightness or the wrongness of an action isdetermined by its effect on bringing about the most happiness to the maximum amount ofpeople affected by that decision.It was John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) who developed the definition of utilitarianism as that:actions are right to the degree that they tend to promote the greatest good for the greatestnumber of people. Utilitarianism as a place in ethics looks at the consequences of the act andnot on the motives or nature of the agent, (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, 2008)The utilitarian viewpoint allows us to consider the immediate and less immediateconsequences of the agent’s actions and to look beyond the self-interests and to consider theimpartial interests of all persons affected by ones actions. The utilitarian viewpoint offers asimple way of deciding the morally right course of action to take, which is to choose thecourse of action which gives the greatest amount of benefits once costs have been taken intoaccount.Carrying out a sexual harassing act may not be the best course of action when the act ofrefraining from carrying out such an act towards an individual may have better results basbetter consequences for the team.Code 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 7
  9. 9. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate EnvironmentA Deontological PerspectiveThe deontological theory of philosophy goes that people should maintain their obligationsand duties to others when analysing an ethical dilemma. (Ridley, 1998). Kant’s theory is saidto be an example of deontological philosophy as it examines the nature of the actions theagent initiates rather than the outcomes of those actions: deontology looks as the inputs ratherthan the outcomes versus utilitarianism (which focuses on the consequences) (Wofford,2012).Kant stated that the consequences do not matter as far as moral evaluation is concerned. Onecategorical imperative focuses on the respect for human beings – that they should never bemerely used because their value is never merely instrumental. Of course, they can be usefulbut must always, at the same time, be treated with respect also as an end, (Wofford, 2012)ConclusionFeary (1994) states that ‘sexual harassment will only be resolved when the corporate worldrecognises that such behaviour is a moral problem and provides moral education foremployees’. Hunt et al (2010, p 667) state that organisations must undoubtedly adapt aculture which does not tolerate such acts between individuals within their corporate setting.Further supported by Dougherty and Smythe (2004), says that the EEOC argue that the bestway to prevent sexual harassment is by communicating to all employees that sexualharassment is an unacceptable way of personal conduct and to ensure an organisationalculture that does not promote such behaviour is fully implemented in all areas of theorganisation.Code 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 8
  10. 10. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate EnvironmentReferencesApodaca, E. and Brian H, K. (2001) Sexual Harassment in the Business Environment.International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 21 (8/9/10), p.3-13.Arnqvist, G. and Rowe, L. (2005) Sexual Conflict. Pricetown University Press.Berdahl, J. and Moore, C. (2006) Workplace harassment: double jepordy for minoritywomen. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91 p.426-36.Bimrose, J. (2004) Sexual Harassment in the workplace - an ethical delemma for careerguidence practice..British Journal for Guidence and Councelling, 32 (1), p.109 - 21.Bowie, N. (2000) A Kantian theory of leadership.The Leadership and OrganizationalDevelopment Journal, 21 (4), p.185 - 193.Chapman, T. et al. (2003) Sexual Conflict.Trends Ecol. Evol, 18 p.41-47.Dougherty, D. and Smythe, M. (2004) Sencemaking, organizational culture, and sexualharassment.Journal or Applied Communication Research, 32 (4), p.293 - 317.Emlen, S. and Oring, L. (1977) Ecology, sexual selection, and the evolution of matingsystems.Science, 197 p.215-223.Feary, V. (1994) Sexual harassment: why the corporate world doesnt get it. Journal ofBusiness Ethics, 13 (8), p.649 - 663.Fitzgerald, L. and Ormerod, A. (1991) Perceptions of Sexual Harassment: the influence ofgender and academic context. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15 p.281 - 94.Fitzgerald, L. et al. (1995) Measuring Sexual Harassment: theoretical and psychometricadvances. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 17 p.425 - 445.Gutek, B. (1985) Sex and the Workplace. San Fransico: Jossey-Bass, p.NK.Hunt, C. et al. (2010) Reviewing sexual harassment in the workplace - an interventionmodel.Personnel Review, 39 (5), p.655 - 673.J.W, M. (1996) Sex and Work. Forbes, Iss. 157 p.10.Code 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 9
  11. 11. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate EnvironmentKohlman, M. (2004) Person or Position?The Demographics of sexual harassment in theworkplace.Equal Opportunities Internaltional, 23 (3-5), p.143 - 62.Meader, S. and Gilburn, A. (2008) Asymmetrical costs of sexual conflict in the seaweed fly.Coelopafrigida.EcolEntamol, 33 p.380-384.Moore, A. et al. (2003) Females avoid manipulative males and live longer. J. Evol. Biol, 17p.523-530.Notes on Utiliarianism (2012) Notes on Utiliarianism. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 20th March 2012] (2011) Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 20 Mar 2012].Pearce, J. and DiLullo, S. (1996) A Business policy statement model for eliminating sexualharassment and related employer liability. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 66 (2), p.12.Popovich, P. and Licata, B. (1987) Preventing sexual harassment: a proactive approach.Training and Development Journal, nk (nk), p.34 - 8.Ridley, A. (1998) Beginning Bioethics. New Yorn: St. Martins (2011) Page Cannot Display - Santa Clara University Web Site. [online] Availableat: [Accessed: 20 Mar 2012].SimplyPsychology (2007) Cognitive Psychology. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 20 Mar 2012].Smolensky, E. and Kleiner, B. (2003) How to prevent sexual harassment in theworkplace.Equal Opportunities International, 22 (2), p.59 - 66.Stockdale, M. and Hope, K. (1997) Confirmatory factor analysis of US merit systemsprotection boards survey of sexual harassment: the fit of a three-factor model.Journal ofVocational Behaviour, 51 p.338 - 57.Unknown.(2012) Introduction to untiliarianism. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 20 March 2012].Veale, C. and Gold, J. (1999) Smashing into the glass celing for woman managers. TheJournal of Management Development, 17 p.17-26.Code 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 10
  12. 12. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate (1997) Notes on Deontology. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 20 Mar 2012].Code 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 11
  13. 13. Sexual Harassment in the Corporate EnvironmentCode 1790 Business Ethics | Sexual Harassment in the Corporate Environment Page 12