Whether consciously or unconsciously, most of us live life according to our own set of principles and values. We’re conscientious about our choices, and generally act with good intentions in mind. We try our best to be ethical, in other words. And even if we can’t eloquently describe our own moral “code,” we certainly know unethical behavior when we see it.
The thing is, the digital transformation and wave of new technologies are bringing with it a whole new set of ethical obstacles, particularly in a business context. AI, for example, presents significant ethical challenges, such as data bias and data privacy – not to mention the morality of asking machines to make important decisions for us (which, in the case of something like healthcare, could mean life-and-death decisions). Then there are pressing issues around climate change and sustainability to contend with.
In the workplaces of the future, companies of all types will be grappling with ethical questions such as "How can we get the best out of technology while ensuring the well-being of our employees, customers and other stakeholders?” or “How do our actions negatively impact the planet?” As such, I’m already seeing more and more businesses hiring ethicists. And I’m not just talking about big tech companies. The US Army, for example, has a chief AI ethics officer who advises the Army on incorporating ethics into AI design.
Even if you don’t want to change career track and become an ethicist, I believe businesses will increasingly want (indeed, expect) all their employees, at every level of the company, to demonstrate ethical awareness. To put it another way, ethical awareness will become a much sought-after skill.
Here are some practical ways you can become more ethical in everyday life and at work. Starting with everyday life:
1. First, identify and understand your own values. What is important to you? What personal qualities do you think are important in a person? How do you wish to behave and for others to see you? Everything stems from this understanding.
2. Then ask yourself – honestly – do you really follow your own ethics? Are there different actions you could be taking to better live your values?
3. Learn about ethics. There's no single blueprint on how to live ethically, which, for me, only makes the topic of ethics more fascinating. So read up on ethics and delve into the various different schools of thought. It may help you define your own ethical code.
4. Practice empathy. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes can really help you make ethical choices.
5. Look for ways to help others. Yes, you can do things like volunteering and giving to charity but don't overlook the opportunities for small good deeds, like giving up your seat on a crowded train.
6. Respect the rights, values and beliefs of others. Forcing people to agree with you or to go along with what you want isn’t ethical – even if you believe you’re acting with their interests in mind.
7. Avoid the temptation to impose your ethics on others. Remember, being ethical means different things to different people.
8. It sounds obvious, but when you make a promise, keep it!
And in a workplace context:
9. Familiarize yourself with your employer's code of ethics so that you can act on these principles – and call out instances of unethical behavior. If you believe your employer is acting unethically, raise it with your manager in the first instance (ideally in writing so you have a record). If necessary, raise the issue with HR.
10. Think beyond laws and regulations. Obviously, laws are there to ensure companies behave properly, but ethical businesses go beyond bare minimum compliance. So when you're involved in decisions in your company, consider the implications of those decisions on people (both inside and outside the business) and the planet. Ask yourself whether each decision contributes to the wider good, not just the business's profit margin.
11. If you fail to enact change from within and you feel your company doesn’t care about ethics, look for another job at a more ethical company. Which brings me to…
12. When weighing up potential employers, ensure the company’s values align with your own. Think critically here. Try to see things as they really are rather than how you want them to be. Look at how the company really behaves, not how it says it behaves.