Thursday, August 07, 2008

Making the Case for Good

I was attending our Managing International Talent class. The topic was of Canadian businesses expanding overseas and encountering standards different to our own - which one do we use? What about ethics?

I gave the following (real) example. A famous language school teaching English in Canada has opened a branch in one of the oil rich Middle East nations. Now in Canada, when we hire someone, we don't care whether the person is black or white, male or female - we just care whether he or she can speak good English, teach it, and hold proper credentials. Not so in this country. There, it's quite common to see recruitment ads specifying ethnicity, gender etc.

In that Arab nation, almost all English language schools hire white Anglo-Saxons to teach English (even if they are Irish!) because the local students can never properly accept a brown skinned teacher (someone beneath them) teaching English.

So I asked this question to the class: Should the class also hire by color and ethnicity, because it makes good business sense?

The lecturer's reply to me was memorable.

"No matter how low the ethical standards of a country are, we cannot imagine that they will always stay that way. To do that is to undermine the basic human nature of self improvement. We have to believe that someone, somewhere, will say no, to judge a candidate by their skin colour is wrong, and so on. We have to believe that things will eventually improve in that country and they will also start to hire by competency and pretty soon everyone in that country will do that."

"In this school we teach you to be leaders. Everyone can be a follower and make money in the short term. Here, we teach you to innovate, to be leaders, to be the force of change. And so I would suggest that if you were running that school, you should hire by competency and uphold the Canadian standards, which were higher. Because - ultimately they will follow those standards, and then you would have been the leader in setting standards, not following them. There is always a business case to be made for ethics."

13 comments:

brainsmoke said...

Good answer! All too often we see the driving factor to be money, so if by not following local customs means money loss, they succumb, for sake of dollars. Its a shame really.

mezba said...

brainsmoke: yup, it IS a shame, when they are losing the services of BETTER candidates who work elsewhere, due to dumb racism.

shysoul said...

well, the answer was very nice. And I would like to see that happening. But would it work in real world, where the basic aim of every organization is to make money?

mezba said...

Shysoul: I think that was the point of the prof - that making a case on ethical grounds WOULD work in the real world because it was going to churn money.

In this case if you hire the better candidate - you may lose a few students who think they are getting ripped off because the teacher isn't white - but if you have hired a good candidate then those who will stay will talk about their enhanced experience of the class and word of mouth publicity. One of the key assets of any organization are the employees and if you restrict the pool you are looking at then automatically you reduce the pool of talent available to you.

'liya said...

Excellent answer!

I remember job hunting a few years ago and seeing lots of ads wanting people to teach in China.. not teachers, just people, anyone really.. they didn`t care for qualifications, only if you could speak the language. But that`s only the first step, at the interview they judge how you look... which is why I`m 100% certain my black friend who has been teaching for years didn`t get the job, but a young white girl did instead.

Tazeen said...

great answer

mezba said...

Liya: yeah China is in the news a lot now for a lot of reasons. One of my friends though - a dark skinned Bengali girl - was in China for a year teaching English, so attitude that may be changing too.

The thing is - they may not change - but we shouldn't as well when we go over there to do business - it should be on our terms.

Tazeen: Yes, I really liked the slow and thoughtful way he laid it all out. Even the hard core sceptics in the class was convinced. Welcome to my blog.

Anonymous said...

I have experience working in 'difficult' countries for a western company. In the real world there are compromise, but the companies do tend to remain nearer the 'native' ethics of their originating country.

There are exceptions where there have been outright pillage with no regards to either ethics or law.

The more thoughtful of us would perhaps ask is 'our' ethics better then 'their'?

Ali said...

Nice topic. However, I can give you an exception. I was taught in school by english teachers from south Asia. I still have fond memories of Mr. Jose (I actually can't remember how his name is spelt, think he was from Kerela). Oman probably qualifies as a "rich middle eastern nation" too. Those discriminations you talk about usually occur in highly selective schools I presume.

'ilya, that would be the agencies trying to recruit fresh graduates to teach english in far eastern countries (China, Japan etc..). One of my friends is doing that in Korea, and from what I hear they don't really pick base on experience, they just want people who are native speakers to get the students in those schools learning how it actually sounds.

Ali said...

Nice topic. I got an exception for you though. I was taught in school by a south asian teacher. Still have fond memories of Mr. Jose (not sure if that's the correct spelling, I think he was from Kerela). And Oman probably qualifies as an oil-rich middle eastern nation. What you mentioned about discrimination usually occurs in highly selective private schools, I think.

mezba said...

Anon: In most cases the first world company SHOULD operate with ethical standards as if they are operating in their home country. However to make a quick buck they often lower themselves.

Ali: it's nice that things are changing now. I know that some Arab friends of mine recently told me they stopped going to one English language school until they changed their teacher. Their complaint? Why should an Indian teach us?

Never mind that the "Indian" was a born British person who spoke better English than half the British I know with immaculate accent. it was her ancestry (and probably skin colour) that marker her "beneath" them.

Ali said...

Agh those arabs piss me off, unfortunately that kind of thinking is predominant with many. They'll never change until their social structure change. With oil running out, that sure will happen...

There are still many who don't have this backward thinking though :)

mezba said...

Ali: You should watch the CBC documentary Dubai - Miracle or Mirage.