Ethically, what would you? Commentary: Diversity and dignity at work


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We are pleased to see that our recent ethical dilemma garnered a record number of responses.

As one reader suggested, there are three main ethical questions in this scenario:

  1. Is it ethical for an individual to look through someone’s social media profile without their knowledge?

 Many of our readers proposed that Shirley overstepped personal boundaries when she looked at Marielle’s social media profile without her knowledge. While there is no regulation prohibiting “creeping”, and in reality many people and organizations engage in this type of practice, it is up to the users to protect themselves online. Personal privacy is at risk when profiles and posts are set to “public” rather than “private”.

  1. Is it ethical to infer how an individual will act based on the words and actions they share in their private life, including their social media posts?

Several people commented that it was unfair for Shirley to judge Marielle before meeting her.

“Personal convictions should not trump workplace etiquette,” said one commenter. “On the other hand, social media views may not necessarily be a decisive thermometer of one’s behaviour in the workplace”. In this situation, we cannot predict whether Marielle will discriminate against Shirley or treat her with respect.

The reality however is that Shirley’s concerns are legitimate. She is justified in raising the issue with her manager, as it will allow the manager to monitor the situation, offer support to both parties and de-escalate any conflicts. Although Marielle is entitled to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, her statements are an affront to the spirit of diversity and equity.

Such comments are contradictory to respecting the dignity of all persons, which is the first principle in the DND/CAF Code of Values and Ethics.

  1. Who is responsible for the implementation of general directives concerning diversity and dignity in the workplace? Is it the individual employee or management?

Most agreed that it is up to the manager to lead the fostering of a culture of diversity and acceptance in the workplace, whether it be through training or by conveying the importance of respecting the dignity of all persons, the first principle of Defence Ethics. It is up to everyone to be inclusive and respectful.

Since no instances of direct conflict between the two have occurred, the manager must judge the situation accordingly and determine a course of action so that Shirley’s concerns are respected while not marginalizing Marielle. In this case, the manager should first genuinely acknowledge that Shirley’s concerns are valid and not overblown. Possible courses of action would be to promote prevention and diversity awareness activities for the group while not singling out Marielle. These could be done by ensuring she completes diversity or employment equity workshops during her orientation, as was suggested by a few commenters.

Lastly, the manager needs to affirm that they will immediately act if discrimination towards either person occurs.

In a complex way, this scenario asks us to deliberate the separation between personal and professional life by asking if religious beliefs influence public behaviour. One reader, a member of the Baha’i community, wanted to emphasize that Marielle’s homophobic online posts are contrary to the spirit of the faith, “which tries to be a loving and inclusive community”.

“As someone who follows Christianity… I also oppose homosexuality,” said another commenter. “I have no issues with working and dealing with people who are homosexual”.

This scenario was not intended to draw negative attention to any particular faith group. Nonetheless, it is clear that within some religions, sexual orientation is an area of controversy.

Several readers expressed support in the belief that, “work is work, personal is personal”. These sentiments often fail to acknowledge that some people regularly and subconsciously mix these two spheres without giving it a second thought. Perhaps in an ideal (or not-ideal) world we could completely separate the two, but we are humans first and we build social bonds by sharing some aspects of our personal lives.

The focus should not be on creating a workplace devoid of personality, but on balancing professionalism and respect for individuality.

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