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The Role of Ethics in 21st Century Organizations

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

The Role of Ethics in 21st Century Organizations

Leaders of today must not only learn the lessons of past leaders, but also attempt to avoid poor ethical decisions in previously unexplored situations. This article will propose three important ethical considerations for 21st century leadership in education, technology, and globalization. Education is a mandatory component of preparing students today to be the world leaders of tomorrow. Technology must be considered in so many aspects of ethics because it shapes the lens in which individuals see themselves, and others. Technology has made today’s globalization possible, and it has allowed for many new ethical considerations.

With the power and influence that corporations have amassed in the last century comes a responsibility to stakeholders. Ethics demands a balance that may be required for long term stability of the planet. As the consequences of ethical misconduct continue to be revealed to the public, education on business ethics is essential to the future of the economy, ecosystems, and global balance. Individuals must educate themselves to the best of their abilities, but corporations must also be sufficiently transparent to be accountable and subject to change, even if they bear the burden of absorbing the cost.

Education, Ethics, and the Future

In an article of Strategic Finance Verschoor discusses how business leaders of today are educated on ethics. The author surveyed MBA students and determined that their attitudes were molded by the information they received concerning acceptable behaviors and values. The research does indicate that students' interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR), and in ethics in general, have increased compared to past graduates.

One of the reasons that business leaders in the 21st century must be educated in ethical behavior is that there are new ethical considerations and decisions being made, with some frequency, that have never had to be considered until now. Things like social media manipulation, subliminal/sub conscious messaging, and the quickly approaching event horizon of artificial technology.

Parizeau asks questions regarding the conceptual convergence of applied ethics and nanotechnology. Bioethics, environmental ethics, and business ethics are all discussed in the Journal of Philosophical Research article which used nanotechnology as an example to explain how concepts such as “consent” and “sustainable development” (among others) are charged with moral contents. She calls it a “conceptual convergence in the area of applied ethics”.

AI ethical considerations are also making headlines with increasing frequency. Blanding discusses the ethics bot designed by Accenture. This is a simple AI when compared with some of the most advanced projects like Sophia the humanoid robot and only robot citizen on the planet. It is a chat-bot where employees can ask questions pertaining to ethics and the company’s code of conduct. The bots’ ability to answer questions beyond “yes or no” is just the beginning. Helping humans find answers in a document is one thing, but could there be a time when people ask AI to determine what’s ethical?

Ethics and Globalization

There is now an undeniable interconnection in the 21st century due to many factors including the technology. Part of that luxury also includes a level of responsibility to similar parties participating on the global level. The global financial crisis demonstrated the influence that ethical misconduct and the interconnected economy can have. Sankowski discusses the environmental ethics of globalization. The author explains how governments can exert influence on the environment by acting on extra-national situations. The concept of global responsibility is being seen not only in the corporate arena, but also the national one.


Leaders in the 21st century have their work cut out for them, but the challenge is not insurmountable. No longer must they worry only about their specific domain, but now they must try to anticipate the impact their decisions have, sometimes on a global level. The daunting task of avoiding ethical gray areas is impossible. That is why the education which allows for a macroscopic understanding of all these interconnected systems must be implemented.

Cruz provides empirical evidence indicating the need to include financial education in the context of educational reform. Incorporating financial and economic thinking in primary education, she concluded, will support the process of educational reform that is sought, with higher levels of education and higher quality, in order to improve the economic and social condition. There appears to be a disconnect between the skills that K-12 teach, and the skills that are required by successful adults, like how to do your taxes or how credit really works. Now there must be an understanding of the interconnectedness of ethics in tech and on a global level now.

Technology has raised its own set of ethical concerns. Digital rights are being established for human, and maybe one day for AI, too. Technology has enabled the globalization we are undergoing today. Where do company’s and nation’s responsibilities begin and end when their decisions can have implications for the whole planet? Each individual has a responsibility to themselves and everyone else on the planet to educate themselves on the dawning ethical concerns that perhaps many people have not stopped and considered seriously enough to date.

Keywords: Business ethics, corporate social responsibility, education, values

21st Century Business Ethics