My literature research focused on the following areas: organizational culture, defining a tech company, indicators of organizational ethics, and industry organizational trends.
Using literature by Peter and Edgar Schein, David Ravasi and Majken Schultz, and Michael D. Watkins, I developed the following definition for organizational culture:
- A set of shared values and principles which steer an organization’s interpretation of appropriate and expected behavior and evolves over time
What is a “tech company”?
Most companies in the 21st centuries rely on technology to efficiently serve their customers. Thus, to be able to effectively analyze the tech industry, I had to define what constitutes a tech company compared to a company that has a strong digital presence. I developed the following definition, and thought map to define a tech company:
- A company whose business model, products, and/or service relies on internal technological innovation and original development
Below is the thought map that can be used to determine if a specific company is a “tech company”:
- Without the company’s online presence (website, app, ads, etc.), does the company have a product or service?
(If “No” – it is likely a tech company; if “Yes” – move onto next question)
- If the company has brick-and-mortar (physical) stores, does it sell electronic gadgets or technology services?
(If “No” – it is likely not a tech company; if “Yes” – move onto next question)
- Are those electronic gadgets/technology services produced/engineered by the respective company?
(If “Yes” – it is likely a tech company; if “No” – it is likely an electronic retailer or other retail store)
Indicators of Organizational Ethics
Mission and Vision Statements
Mission and values statements can offer insight into a company’s’ guiding principles, but are meaningless if they are not ingrained into company behavior.
The mission statement, also known as a values statement, serves as a company’s declaration of the company’s purposes, goals and values (“Mission and Vision Statements”, 1).
Some examples of tech companies’ mission statements include:
- Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
- Workday: To put people at the center of enterprise software.
- Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
A company’s “vision statement” declares the company’s ultimate aspiration upon accomplishing its mission. It serves to demonstrate the company’s end-goal as it pertains to both its mission and business model (Kolowich, 8).
Some examples of tech companies’ vision statements include:
- Microsoft (original): A computer on every desk and in every home.
- Google: To provide access to the world’s information in one click.
Code of Ethics
A code of ethics is essentially a more value-based code of conduct, can positively guide company behavior and employee actions. Similar to mission statements, creating a corporate code of ethics is much easier than implementing one. Codes of ethics have the potential to positively guide both internal and external company actions, but they must be respected and upheld by the employees, especially the leadership.
Codes of ethics, similar to mission and vision statements, should be updated as a company grows and evolves. A famous code of ethics edit was Google’s decision to replace its notorious clause “Do no evil” with “Do the right thing” in its corporate code of ethics (Mayer, 1). The justification for this is that people should be encouraged to do good rather than to avoid doing harm.
Slogans and Taglines
While taglines primarily serve to trigger a company’s image and brand in a customer’s mind, slogans typically are aimed to incorporate and reflect the mission of the company. Slogans encompass both the company’s brand and mission in a short, catchy phrase. Taglines are also short and catchy, but typically do not reflect ethics or values.
Some examples in the tech industry include:
- Uber (original): Everyone’s private driver. → Uber (updated): Get there.
- Lyft: Your friend with a car.
- GoPro: Be a Hero.
- Amazon (internal slogan): Work hard. Have fun. Make history.
- AirBnB: Belong anywhere.
- Verizon: Can you hear me now? Good.
- Apple: Think different.
Many historically white dominated companies and academic institutions are beginning to recognize the need (or have been requested) to reflect U.S. racial and gender demographics to their own employee demographics. The tech industry, a very white male dominated space, has long been criticized for its lackluster representation of blacks, hispanics, and other racial minorities.
Tech executive Barí Williams and Harvard historian Leah Rigueur claim that a more diverse tech corporation will be more ethical in the long-run, because there will always be a variety of perspectives and opinions in the room, thus a higher probability of ethical decision making (Williams 1-4; Rigueur 14-19). Thus, companies that are more diverse may reflect both inclusive hiring practices as well as more ethical decision-making. However, some companies may only care about their public image or hitting quotas.
Since determining which companies are primarily concerned about hitting diversity quotas from those that actually value diversity can be difficult by solely looking at racial and gender demographics, minority retention rate may possibly be a better indicator of ethics. Barí Williams’ motto is “Diversity gets people in the door; inclusion keeps them there.” (Fluker, 3-15).
Policies and Practices
A company’s policies and practices and their willingness to change them according to internal or external demand can reveal a good amount about their workplace ethics. Companies that offer parental leave (includes fathers and LGBTQ partners), enforce zero-tolerance harassment policies, and do not require forced arbitration are more likely to have positive, healthy workplace cultures. Many tech employees have been protesting forced arbitration clauses in their contracts that block their ability to sue the company for misconduct and harassment. The Google Walkout For Real Change and Riot Games case studies will explore employee reaction and protest to these policies.
Trends in Tech Organizational Ethics
New Positions: Chief Diversity Officer + Chief Ethics Officer
The role of the Chief Diversity Officer is dedicated to developing initiatives to attract and retain minorities and to establishing conversations about diversity and inclusion among leadership at the respective organization (Williams, ix). This role could potentially be a marker of an organization that truly prioritizes inclusion and diversity. However, as this role becomes more commonplace, it may also become less of a reliable signal of ethical culture because it has become a social expectation of corporations and academic institutions.
The same arguments can be made for other new positions gaining popularity at tech companies such as Chief Ethics Officer (CEO). Ethics has been a buzz-worthy concept in the last few years, as major tech companies have found themselves under harsh scrutiny in the media regarding controversial ethical issues such as sexual harassment, user privacy violations, and intellectual property rights disputes. Thus, tech companies have an incentive to demonstrate their ethical commitment to their employees, customers, and the general public.