Integrating Integrity

Summer 2014

Good Ethics are Good Business for Omaha Women

BY SARAH WENGERT

With many Americans still bouncing about in the wake of the 2007/2008 financial crisis, it’s more important than ever for those in business to preach and practice integrity. But there’s a misconception held by some that in order to really succeed in business, one must be willing to compromise his or her ethics. According to Omaha businesswomen, that’s just not true.

“I think one of the most important factors to being successful is being true to yourself,” says Shari Flowers, vice president, compliance & ethics, and chief compliance officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. “If you’re not, it’s very hard to maintain your motivation and dedication to your job. In other words, if you’re compromising your ethical standards, you won’t be as dedicated and/or motivated to succeeding in your position because you’re not being true to yourself.”

“In the long run, I believe maintaining your ethics is the best way to be successful in a career,” says Melissa Smith, vice president of Care Consultants for the Aging. “Doing what you believe is best for both your company and for the people who use your company is very important, and it’s good business.”

Care Consultants won the Better Business Bureau’s 2013 Silver Award of Distinction for Significant Commitment to Ethical Business Practices.

Of course, ethics are extremely important in any business, but it’s stopping to examine why they’re so important that reveals the totality of the significance of integrity in business. It all boils down to the impact of a company’s ethics on its employees and customers, and even society as a whole. For example, such values could have an impact on an ailing loved one’s sense of security.

“When people utilize our services, they are often vulnerable and going through an emotionally difficult time,” says Smith. “Letting someone into their homes can increase this vulnerability. We want them to have confidence that our company makes ethical decisions and, accordingly, in the level of care our caregivers provide.”

Sarah Waldman, senior vice president, administration, at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, and former compliance officer there, says ethical businesses care about more than the bottom line—they care about doing business right, and success follows.

“Ethical businesses treat their customers and employees with respect and make things right when mistakes happen,” she says. “Recent studies show that companies known for ethics significantly outperform the market, providing support for the concept that good business ethics is not only good for employees and customers—it makes a difference for the bottom line.”

Waldman adds that it really is individuals who constitute ethical businesses. “Businesses are really just a collection of people, so in order for businesses to continue to thrive, we need people who care about ethics leading the way,” she says.

Dame Anita Roddick, activist and founder of The Body Shop, once famously said, “Being good is good for business.” Omaha’s Business Ethics Alliance takes that a step further with the equation: “Good Business Ethics = Successful Business = Great Cities.”

“We build moral networks and thereby break the moral isolation that business people feel,” says Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., CEO and executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance. “We provide organizations the tools they need to build ethical cultures. And, unlike any other organization in the nation, we focus on building a climate of ethical excellence throughout our whole business community so that our city, Omaha, has strong economics and is a great place to live, work and play.”

Kracher also holds the Robert B. Daugherty Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business.

“A company that has a strong ethical culture enlivens their employees, making them proud and happy to work at the firm,” she says. “This engagement translates into customer satisfaction and, thus, successful business. An individual with ethics is trustworthy. Successful business is based on trust, so an individual with good ethics tends to be successful in business.”

Smith concurs that the culture of a business is huge when it comes to establishing personal and company-wide integrity.

“By using ethical business practices, you help encourage a positive work atmosphere and employees who are inspired to work for a company they believe in,” she says.

Flowers also echoes the importance of culture and trust in business.

“If a business exhibits an ethical culture, their employees and customers have trust in that organization. In this day and age—although price can be a driver in gaining business—if your customers don’t trust your business and that you’re doing what’s right and [in their best interest], they’re more inclined to go to a competitor,” she says. “Similarly, if your employees don’t trust that you’re doing what’s in their best interest and the best interests of the clients you serve, they are more likely to find a company that exhibits these standards.”

Within this structure, Flowers believes that individuals who “do the right thing” on the job experience success as a result.

“If you stand for ethical principles, and truly doing what’s right for the people you work with and serve, that gets noticed,” she says. “You build trust with those you work with and for, and therefore, are more likely to be recognized within your company. I haven’t worked for any company where people that are truly disrespectful and untrustworthy get ahead in the long run. It might help you be successful in a situation, but it won’t help you be successful in your long-term career.”

A study titled “Who Is Willing to Sacrifice Ethical Values for Money and Social Status? Gender Differences in Reactions to Ethical Compromises,” published in 2013, found women to be less likely than men to sacrifice their ethical values for promotions and other monetary or career gains.

So, are more women in business better for overall business ethics?

While more women in business is always good news, Kracher finds such research problematic, in part because it does not distinguish between sex (biological) and gender (psychological, sociological).

“Just because I have certain body parts (sex) does not make me more or less ethical. If anything, being more masculine or more feminine does (gender),” she says. “Education can help all of us know [what’s appropriate]—both men and women.”

For Waldman, the question of how a person’s demographics affect their ethical values has more to do with embracing diversity.

“I think having more diverse perspectives—including gender, age, race, etc.—across organizations and at higher level positions is good for business in the long run,” she says. “If more diverse perspectives have a voice in the decision-making process, you will likely avoid some of the pressure and groupthink that causes people to hold back from speaking up in organizations. I believe this leads to better decision-making, a healthier ethical business culture and better business results.”

Smith agrees that women, as with any demographic, bring their own unique perspective to the business world.

“Having women in positions of power who are willing to speak up for what they believe will hopefully help both men and women to think more about how their decisions affect their employees and clients,” she says.

Flowers echoes the importance of not just having values, but being vocal about them in your profession. “Like the Department of Homeland Security has said, ‘When you see something, say something.’ If an ethical dilemma is presented or you’re in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, talk about it. Other people are probably feeling the same way, and once you bring it to others’ attention, you can find ways to resolve the situation in an ethical manner,” Flowers says.

Kracher agrees that being frank and insistent regarding your ethics on the job is hugely important, and will encourage others to follow suit.

“Be intentional about role modeling that one can be successful and ethical at the same time,” she says. “We need to see the positive examples of ethical business. Shout from the rooftops that ethics is a competitive advantage in business.”

So how can Omaha women approach and maintain successful careers in business while also maintaining their personal values and ethics? The two are not as mutually exclusive as some people might think.

“First, take the time to identify your values,” Kracher says. “Know what is non-negotiable and what can be bent. Second, find several ethical role models. Watch and learn how they maneuver through the world of business. Good people can make it in business. It’s a matter of knowing oneself and practicing the skills and tools to voice one’s values appropriately.”

Smith advises always sticking to your guns and maintaining integrity throughout your career, even if you don’t see an immediate payoff. “Success may not come overnight, and is not necessarily going to be apparent with every ethical decision you make,” she says. “If you maintain your integrity and focus on your business mission, you will become known for this and the success will follow.”

“I strive to be honest, respectful and trustworthy,” Flowers adds. “I want to do what’s right, not only for the company, but also for the people I work with. I think building trust and strong relationships is a key to being successful.”

Waldman suggests seeking opportunities with like-minded employers.

“[Look for] companies known for creating an ethical culture. In Omaha, many businesses place a priority on ethics, so the opportunities are out there. If you’re not sure about whether a business puts a priority on ethics, you can look at their website for information about ethics, check their rating with the Better Business Bureau, ask questions about ethics in the interview, ask if they have ever been recognized for ethics. This will give you a good sense of whether the organization has truly fostered an ethical culture throughout their organization,” Waldman says.

And, luckily for local women, Omaha is a great place to work and to build a career in businesses with integrity.

“Omaha has an incredibly vibrant community that cares deeply about doing business right,” Waldman says.

She suggests that anyone interested in learning more about business ethics check out the Business Ethics Alliance, adding that the organization “provides wonderful resources for implementing organizational business ethics programs and offers great opportunities for rich discussions about ethics.”

“I think the Omaha area has a very strong ethical business climate. We should be proud of the community we live in and the companies we work for,” Flowers says.

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