By Casey Knoll

On May 24, 2017, IABC/Calgary held Ethics: Exploring the gray zone, where three industry professionals led discussions about ethics in professional communication. The experts were Allison MacKenzie (public relations professor at Mount Royal University), Dawn Tinling (senior consultant of Navigator Limited) and Sheila Carruthers (IABC/Calgary past president and CSR Strategies founder). The recently updated IABC code of ethics was shared and discussed.

The chapter’s director of professional standards, Nancy Helledie, opened the event with the idea of communicators having “the power of the pen.” This “power” she said referred to – among other things – the responsibility for communicators to maintain transparency and be conversation starters. This thought was meant to get the creative juices flowing and encourage questions and ideas.

Here’s a look at some of the topics which were discussed and the conversations they sparked.

What should you do as a communicator if your employer is unethical?

This discussion was led by Diane, and resulted in more questions such as:

– what should you do if you know important information which impacts a wide range of employees, such as a layoff?

– how do you handle being “caught in the middle” when you understand important information is coming, but can’t share it?

– if an employer’s actions go against your ethics, what should you do?

Raising such dilemmas allowed the participants to reflect on their own professional experiences and difficult situations they encountered.

Why is it important employees and a company are a “fit” for each other?

Allison MacKenize brought up this topic. It led to a discussion of why, in respect to ethics, it is important for employers and employees to have a “cultural” fit. The “cultural fit” referred to how the company’s day-to-day attitudes/behaviour aligned with an employee’s ethics, and vice versa. The participants discussed the following:

– the importance of listening to your “gut” feeling; if you feel uneasy about a situation, it’s usually for a reason.

– the long-term benefit of multi-step interview processes, where an employee’s skills and values are assessed. The participants noted this was also an opportunity for the employee to “interview” the company and see if the company’s “culture” fit with their ethics.

What are the consequences for you, and an organization, if you’re unethical?

Shelia provided a series of mock-up scenarios where unethical behaviours (or, situations which created a potential for unethical behaviour) were presented. One of these case studies included an employee taking credit for another colleague’s work. Shelia discussed each scenario with the participants and they related them to the IABC code of ethics. These case studies also led to participants asking Shelia questions. One participant asked about how to ethically credit photos which are used for work purposes. Clearly, ethical grey zones can be strategic or tactical and we all face them as professional communicators.

IABC/Calgary extends a “thank-you” to all event participants and the industry experts who led these discussions. To learn more about IABC’s code of ethics, click here.

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