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3 US Business Schools Leading The Way In Ethics Training

The training of business ethics has become second-nature for some business schools

Top MBA programs in the US are stepping up their focus on business ethics. The next generation of business leaders will have ample opportunity to participate in ethical coursework, in which professors use case studies, simulations, and other exercises to explore how students navigate real-life scenarios informed by their perceptions of what is “right” and “wrong.” 

Corrupt leadership has been a hot button media topic this past year, from sexual assault allegations in industries across the board to characteristic tales of fraud and larceny. Meanwhile, US business schools hand out degrees to over 200,000 MBA students annually, according to a statistic by the National Center for Education Statistics. Schools don’t take their roles lightly; they recognize that MBA programs are the breeding ground for the future’s next international leaders and thus—for better or worse—direct contributors to a slew of high-powered, ultra-influential positions.

In 1987, Harvard responded to missteps on Wall Street by investing $20 million toward the introduction of ethical training into their coursework. Whether or not their efforts were successful has been the topic of much debate, but make no mistake—the importance of ethics training isn’t under scrutiny. Harvard’s investment marks a general trend toward corporate social responsibility (CSR). Increasingly, ethics courses have become a curriculum requirement.

For those looking for a cutting-edge MBA program with high marks in sustainability, the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes project publishes a “global ranking of leading business schools innovating social and environmental impact” in which data, provided by the schools themselves, is evaluated in terms of social and environmental impact.

The big winners from this list are the schools that have already been highly ranked as the top MBA programs in the country. These schools not only stay ahead of the curve, but on the crest of the ethics wave. We spoke with some of them about popular methods in ethics courses, student response, and the importance of ethics in the MBA journey.

Here's three US business schools leading the way in ethics training:

1) Yale School of Management 

At Yale School of Management, ethics training is not a required part of the curriculum, but there is an impressive infrastructure available for interested students. The Leader Distribution Requirement ensures that students enroll in at least one elective that “focuses on leadership in a particular industry or look at the major ethical and societal challenges that leaders must address.”

For Jason Dana, who teaches Ethics and Decision-Making at Yale School of Management, there need not be a separation between a successful career and adherence to personal values.

“Morality is not something you can hang on a hook like your coat when you show up to work; we cannot split our ‘good’ personal selves from our work identities. Further, for most of us, our primary impact on the world is done through our work.”

The emphasis here is guiding students to connect with their personal values when faced with an unexpected—and potentially dangerous—situation on the job. This consistency “contributes to the school’s mission of training […] students so that they will have the best impact on business and society that they can.”

Lecture, discussion, and case studies are all components of the course, which seems to hit home for participating students. One student reported that the course enabled them to approach decision making in “a rational and defensible way as opposed to acting on feelings or intuition which may mask biases toward or against certain actions or groups.”


2) NYU Stern School of Business

In 2013, Michael Posner and Sarah Labowitz founded the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. It is the first human rights center at a business school anywhere. Through classes, research, and projects on current business and human rights challenges, the center has set the tone for other programs to follow suit.

Michael, who currently serves as director of the center, hopes to better prepare students for the inevitable risks of business dealings in today’s global marketplace. “Our business and human rights courses and research opportunities explore how businesses can proactively address issues that may have an impact on the bottom line such as: the risks in global manufacturing supply chains, the exploitation of migrant workers or the dangers to leading Internet companies posed by harmful content online.”


3) Stanford Graduate School of Business

MBA students at Stanford are required to take the Ethics in Management course and can also choose from several electives in ethics with snappy titles such as Dilemmas. Decisions. and Acting with Power.

A representative from Stanford explained that the Ethics in Management course “changes in a dynamic reflection of current headlines and market forces”, using “case studies, insights from experimental psychology and economics, and excerpts from or about major works of moral philosophy”. Through the coursework, the department aims to prevent “social and cognitive pitfalls that undermine the ability of business leaders to fulfill their ethical duties."