AHRI president Peter Wilson chats to Melbourne Business School’s Centre for Ethical Leadership (CEL) director Professor Bob Wood about how moral reasoning can propel business leaders to the next level.
Peter Wilson: Your programs reflect critical ethical challenges that people in the middle of their careers would identify with. How did you get the CEL going?
Professor Bob Wood: The centre was built on the back of a six-year research program around the study of flexible expertise and its application to leadership.
Leadership is not about the routine, it’s about the novel. It’s about change and being able to take people with you.
The opportunity came to apply for the Vincent Fairfax fellowship (through CEL) and that’s when I saw the chance to take these ideas and apply them to the senior executive levels.
PW: Would you say moral reasoning is an important part of the mindset of working in a global world, particularly during negotiations between parties from Eastern and Western cultures?
BW: You can teach moral reasoning, but it’s the dynamic application that is the major challenge.
To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes and appreciate their viewpoint is very important in cross-cultural dealings.
To take the trouble to understand somebody is a sign of respect. It’s not going to take you all the way in commercial deals but it will take you quite a bit of the way in building the foundations for going forward.
PW: What role do ethics and moral reasoning play in the work HR practitioners do?
BW: Verbal communication is one of the most flexible tools humans have for influencing and engaging people.
But for an HR professional there are two other mechanisms for engagement and influence: the systems and processes (for example, remuneration and selection systems) and finding the culture.
I would like to see AHRI members having a much larger voice in the design of systems.
You can say all you like about gender equality, but if your selection or promotion systems are full of biases, equality is not going to happen.
Biases are not only found in traditional HR systems but in operation and planning systems.
PW: What’s happening at the moment with your Centre’s gender equality project?
BW: This research goes on, but our industry partners told us they were interested in resilience – why some women ‘stick’ and others don’t.
We came up with a useful model showing there were a lot of people who didn’t have the ‘fit’ right.
They were promoting women and supporting them through mentoring but they didn’t have the right culture and work environment.
So it would reach a tipping point where women would say, ‘it’s not worth it’ and quit. We are now doing a review of workplace flexibility.
PW: What advice would you give a young female graduate about career expectations?
BW: I would tell her that right now in industry, depending on where you go, there’s a real appetite for the utilisation of women.
Find a company that has that appetite. Go after the counter-stereotypical roles because demand on their side means greater opportunities on your side.
You have to understand that people may react to you taking these roles; but it’s not about you, you’ve got to be confident in your identity and encourage the organisation to work on the system.