What we talk about when we talk about ethics

Look no further from the morning briefing roll calls under the header TECH, and you’ll find articles on how oil data is the new tech gold rush; how China is using facial recognition technology to monitor and persecute it’s Uighur citizens, a religious minority; how automation threatens to widen the poverty gap.

Ethics feels like a big word for big ticket items. We can easily look to broad issues where there is a clear need for ethical consideration but I think ethics is the stuff of everyday life. If I were going to put that into designer speak, I might say ethics are embedded in interaction. See what I did there?

Often we think of ethics in micro and macro extremes. Micro: as a private, internal matter – a standard we hold ourselves against. Macro: as a BIG E question of life and death – who am I going to kill by the lever of a train? What’s missing from both of those extremes is the space in which we discuss the activity around making ethical decisions, something I’ll refer to as situational ethics.

The framework I shared in my last blog post felt, and is, incredibly personal. When I tried holding it against a question or an issue, it felt difficult to understand how I might apply this without the grappling being in the context of decision making with other people. Which brings me around to the situations in which we will be having these conversations – the workplace.

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Why it Matters

Earlier this month, there was a post to Medium from 12 employees of color within Facebook who had gathered together stories about the racist behaviors and actions being taken against them.

Screen Shot 2019-12-05 at 11.32.39 PMHow does this happen? Where are the colleagues? Why are they failing each other? If we aren’t addressing workplace ethics, how can we expect to have truthful conversations around ethics in the hypothetical or abstract? We need to create more capacity in our workplace to have supportive, dialed in conversations around ethics in that environment.

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Dynamic Scaffolding 

I want the function of the  framework to be one of support – to help me maximize the potential for growth and truth within those engagements. My framework, then, needs to have dynamic scaffolding to support how I might approach these steps in practice, at work.

Leaning into strategies I’ve learned over the last two quarters, as well as techniques I’ve tried during group facilitations, I can see how these could be used to ground, frame, and develop workplace conversation around ethics – to better explore and understand why we are putting something into the world and where intention vs impact come into conflict.

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Being Grounded Leaders

Resmaa Menakem is a therapist, licensed social worker, and police trainer and consultant who specializes in trauma work, addressing conflict, and body-centered healing. He writes about the generational trauma that white bodies, black bodies, and police bodies have inherited and how, often times, people go to a therapist to be around a grounded body. To experience what it means to be grounded in the world.

An ethical center is something that grounds me. It grounds my decision making, it grounds the way I lead, it grounds the way I participate in conversation. If I’m not actively and regularly bringing ethics into practice within my workplace, how can I expect to have conversations around power/privilege, risk/consequence, time/scale with those same decision-making teams?

From a credibility standpoint, if we’re going to be, not just designers but design strategists capable of being a touchpoint across entire organizations, I need to ensure that I’m addressing these questions:

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