Ethics Research I am Excited About: Why your involvement matters more than you think

Missed the Laidley Centre for Business Ethics’ recent events? Learn more in this three-part series by recent BCom graduate Avneet Bhabra about McGill University’s central hub supporting ethical decision-making in business through teaching, academic research and community engagement.

This past April, researchers from all parts of McGill University convened to discuss their projects and how they related to the world of business ethics. The event “Ethics Research I am Excited About,” hosted by the Laidley Centre for Business Ethics (LCBE), featured 19 academics with backgrounds ranging from finance to medical ethics. The challenge? Speakers had only three minutes to discuss the main findings of their research and explain how it can be understood through the lens of business ethics.

For example, Associate Professor in Accounting Dongyoung Lee discussed the relationship between corporate social responsibility, ethical financial reporting and employee treatment, among other topics. Professor AJung Moon is an experimental roboticist specializing in ethics and responsible design of interactive robots and autonomous intelligent systems. Her research interests include how robots and AI systems influence the way people move, behave and make decisions.

Why should those of us not formally engaged in research care about such conversations? Firstly, research with ethical components does not just involve academics who conduct literature reviews or experiments – it involves all of us who make decisions, whether in the workforce or in the classroom. Take, for example, McGill Desautels Assistant Professor in Finance Begum Ipek Yavuz’s research interests: corporate governance and business ethics. Her research examines the relationship between shareholder activism and business ethics, with one finding being that activism can influence the firm to adopt responsible practices. You don’t have to have a formal research background to realize the benefits of these findings – those of us in the workforce can rely on this kind of research to motivate and drive us to make ethical decisions.

As a student, I was also delighted to see how enthusiastic each speaker was to share their findings – most speakers struggled to condense and convey their findings into a few minutes! What I found most exciting was the dialogue that followed as this kind of work shines most when we share it with thoughtful collaborators. For the most part, researchers tend to explore ethics tangentially to their interests and work, rather than directly. It was inspiring to see ethics at the forefront of their research.

As an example, Professor Jeremy Cooperstock from the Faculty of Engineering and Director of the Shared Reality Lab, discussed the use of avatars in long-term care facilities, noting that his work in human-computer interaction technologies requires involving those engaged in ethics research to better understand how to responsibly deploy devices. His work affects patients, their families, and the ways in which the facilities operate, therefore impacting people of all backgrounds.

This LCBE event created a multidisciplinary platform that brought together researchers with vastly different interests who are united by a common thread: how ethics factor into the conduct and results of their work. Research has little value if its findings aren’t shared, and the event’s speakers proved a lengthy lecture to share the results was not necessary to reach broader audiences.

My main takeaway? Academic research can highlight the impacts of ethical practices and decision-making for all business sectors. Whether you are a software engineering student who aspires to work in tech or a seasoned professional who hasn’t set foot in a classroom in years, reach out to your colleagues, peers, and mentors to talk about the work you engage in and how ethics impacts your day-to-day role – regardless of whether you understand the nuances of the other field. These kinds of discussions can help employers and employees become more mindful of how ethics can enable them to grow into better thinkers and more engaged members of the workforce.

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