In the global workplace, whose rules apply? Tackling moral and ethical questions in social learning spaces

Homosexuality is illegal in around 70 countries around the world. Out of a total of around 195 recognised states, that’s about 36%. In the last year, i’ve worked on three projects around diversity and inclusion, the messaging being clear that the organisations involved believe discrimination based on sexual preference is wrong.

I’m interested in social learning: creating spaces where people can come together to learn. One of the great things about social learning is that it can transcend geographical boundaries, allowing us to form learning communities that cross cultures, oceans and, if we’re creative, even language. But they can’t cross moral and ethical hurdles. Creating the space for discussion is easy, it’s just a matter of technology. Understanding, respecting and tolerating the views of others may be more of a challenge.

My personal views are liberal and clear: i believe in equality regardless of gender or sexual preference. But how should i behave in a global community? I am asking this question in the Learning Forum at the moment and, whilst the study is ongoing, the direction of current opinion is clear: we should actively promote diversity. But is this correct? In the global workplace, as we create and deploy social learning spaces to bring people together, how do we work with respect and tolerance of each others views?

Does morality take precedence over pragmatism? If i am in a community with people from different cultures, maybe where homosexuality is illegal, should i promote my views, or should i respect them and ignore the subject. Is the best approach to build on commonality and ignore the subject in the hope that, through dialogue, the moral supremacy of my argument will win, or is it a form of moral cowardice to dodge the bullet?

I faced this challenge only one in a real project, where we were delivering training to 1,500 sales people in a global rollout. Whilst shooting video i cast one of the managers as a woman (one manager out of three that we were showing). I was told to take it out. Why? Because they had no female managers. I was told that, if i put a female manager in the video, people would laugh as they simply didn’t have any. This training wasn’t deploying in England, it was in a different cultural and religious background to the one i am used to, but the issue was clear. My personal view of the world clashed with the organisational one.

As technology allows us to come closer together, to communicate more effectively and to learn more collaboratively, it becomes easier to offend or upset people. On the one hand, i have to recognise the validity history of different cultures and religions: my personal beliefs drive me to accept others in all their shapes, colours and preferences. I am liberal in my views and, i hope, tolerant of how other people live their lives. So i have to respect the views of others, but sometimes those views are abhorrent to my eyes. Organisations often fudge these issues, sometimes with the best of intentions, at other times through greed or ignorance. Global organisations work across cultures. You don’t have to travel far in the world before you find a place where the contribution of women is regarded as less valuable than that of men. Do organisations simply appoint men as managers here to avoid rocking the boat, or do they pioneer change and run the risk of looking colonial or worse?

One of the most incredible facts about the London Olympics was that, for the first time, every country allowed women to enter. But, behind the scenes there are a huge range of attitudes and approaches to diversity and equality. The benefits of the Games were clear: two weeks where the world comes together in competition based on fairness and respect, rather than war, but do the benefits outweigh avoiding the underlying issues.

Take the Commonwealth. As the British Empire faded, we created the Commonwealth. The goals are clear, to provide a framework of support and unity. But homosexuality is illegal in 41 of the 54 Commonwealth states. Indeed, one reason for this is because, in the days of Empire, it was illegal here too and we exported our views across the world.

To some extent, this feels like the hidden side of globalisation: do we take a pragmatic line, or to we proudly stand by our ethical or moral stance? Of course, it’s possible to take a moral stance in a productive and respectful way, but does the debate derail learning in other areas. Should we take the approach that we want to have the conversations, but it doesn’t have to flavour every encounter, or do we take a different line?

I’m interested to see how the research pans out, keen to try to draw together different experiences and see what we can learn from this. There’s no doubt that as technology facilitates greater discussion, these issues will become apparent to us ever more often. One size most certainly does not fit all, but as we develop solutions for global markets, how far should we localise them, and do some issues transcend boundaries?

About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Collaboration, Community, Conformity, Culture, Difference, Diversity, Equality, Freedom, Gender, Inclusivity, Social Learning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to In the global workplace, whose rules apply? Tackling moral and ethical questions in social learning spaces

  1. Pingback: 4 facets of learning culture: creation, ownership, technology and change | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  2. Pingback: Building a marketplace for ideas: #diversity for social learning | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  3. Pingback: Trust and Rules | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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