“Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one is watching.” —Aldo Leopold, American writer and philosopher
The above quote sums up ethics very well. It isn’t about doing the right thing for recognition but doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Ethics are the moral principles that guide our everyday behavior in the workplace and in life. And the challenge of behaving ethically is only increasing in this Digital Age—there are many new ethical considerations that we never had to consider before. What digital information is confidential? What is the appropriate use of that information?
The new IMA Management Accounting Competency Framework clearly conveys the importance of ethical behavior in our field. It includes a new competency domain that encompasses professional ethics, attitudes, and behavior; its placement in the Framework graphic is meant to convey the idea that this competency permeates all other aspects of the Framework.
INCLUDING ETHICS IN THE CURRICULUM
As management accountants, we face situations in many different venues that have an ethical component. But ethics isn’t something that is important just for practicing professionals—it’s also important for students preparing for careers in our field. It’s important that we make students aware that they can and will encounter situations with ethical components in practice and that they need to be prepared to address these.
That’s why, in my former career as an accounting educator, I would be sure to devote part of the curriculum of any course I taught to covering the ethical aspects of the subject. I told my students that the need for professional ethics doesn’t start when they graduate; it starts while they’re in school, and they need to have a moral code to live by.
That code probably has been hard-wired into students by the time they’ve gotten to college, but professors can help students identify situations where ethical considerations are important and understand how they can apply their moral code in those situations. And, of course, the core values of the organizations the students will be working for also need to be considered.
FITTING ETHICS INTO THE CURRICULUM
There are sometimes questions about where in the curriculum ethics should be covered—should it be covered in a separate course, integrated throughout the curriculum, or both? While the latter option is desirable, it may be unrealistic given the large amount of content that needs to be covered in the typical college program.
If choosing between the first two approaches, the former is preferable as it enables consideration of ethics in more realistic practice settings, enabling a deeper understanding of the area. Additionally, coverage in a variety of courses reinforces students’ awareness and understanding of the importance of the subject.
Incorporating ethics in the syllabus should not be hard to do. You can easily incorporate a case study, such as the ones we publish in the IMA Educational Case Journal, or a short vignette. You can also review documents such as the IMA Management Accounting Competency Framework and the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice. The Framework can help you create teaching materials to include in your course curriculum, and the IMA Statement outlines the ethical principles and standards expected of management accountants in the real world.