GVV Pillar 7: Reasons & Rationalizations
By anticipating the typical reasons & rationalizations given for ethically questionable behavior, you are able to identify and prepare well-reasoned responses.
1. Brainstorm some common rationalizations (e.g., “everybody’s doing it,” “it’s just standard operating procedure,” “I don’t want to hurt my friend, colleague, boss, firm, club, etc.”), and discuss ways to respond to them. (See “Keeping Your Colleagues Honest” by Mary C. Gentile in Harvard Business Review, March 2010 for more on this.)
2. If you suspect that your ethical objections will not be heard, is it still worthwhile to make them? Why or why not?
3. Is it necessary to have a foolproof argument when raising an ethical objection?
4. Think about a time when you (or someone you observed) were able to effectively respond to those “reasons and rationalizations.” What are some effective ways to re-frame the challenge and/or respond to them?
5. When raising an ethical concern, how might you balance the need to prepare responses to common reasons and rationalizations with the need to remain open to legitimate arguments raised against your position?
On May 10, 2012, executive Ellen Pao filed a lawsuit against her employer, Silicon Valley-based tech venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (Kleiner Perkins), on grounds of gender discrimination. Pao began working at Kleiner Perkins in 2005. She became a junior investing partner, but after several years at the firm was passed over for a senior partner position and was eventually terminated. Pao claimed that men with similar profiles and achievements were promoted instead.
In late 2011, Pao and a coworker were asked by a senior partner to come up with ways of improving the firm’s treatment of women, but the senior partner, according to Pao, was “noncommittal.” On January 4, 2012, Pao took this issue a step further and wrote a formal memorandum to several of her superiors and the firm’s outside counsel. In the memorandum, she described harassment she had received while at the firm, claiming she had been excluded from meetings by male partners, and asserting an absence of training and policies to prevent discrimination at the firm. Pao’s memo indicated that she wished to work with the firm on improving conditions for women. She was fired on October 1, 2012. The lawsuit went to trial in February 2015.
In a testimony during the trial, Pao explained that she sued because there was no process for HR issues at the firm and believed she had exhausted all options for addressing these issues internally: “It’s been a long journey, and I’ve tried many times to bring Kleiner Perkins to the right path. I think there should be equal opportunities for women and men to be venture capitalists. I wanted to be a VC but I wasn’t able to do so in that environment. And I think it’s important…to make those opportunities available in the future. And I wanted to make sure my story was told.”
Pao’s lawsuit made four claims against Kleiner Perkins: 1) they discriminated against Pao on the basis of gender by failing to promote her and/or terminating her employment; 2) they retaliated by failing to promote her because of conversations she had in late 2011 and/or the memo from January 4, 2012; 3) they failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent gender discrimination against her; and 4) they retaliated against her by terminating her employment because of conversations she had in late 2011 and/or the memo from January 4, 2012.
Pao’s legal team argued that men were promoted ahead of women, women who experienced sexual harassment received little support, and women’s ideas were often more quickly dismissed than men’s. Pao’s performance reviews revealed contradictory criticisms such as “too bold” and “too quiet.” Pao also accused company partner Ajit Nazre of pressuring her into an affair and subsequently retaliating against her after she ended the relationship. She said she received an inappropriate gift containing erotic imagery and was present while men at the firm were making inappropriate conversation. Further, the legal team described how Pao and other women had been left out of certain meetings and gatherings.
The defense’s case focused on Pao’s performance and character, noting that Pao received several negative performance reviews and acted entitled or resentful toward other employees and was not a team player. Evidence included evaluations, self-evaluations, meeting summaries, and messages both personal and professional. Kleiner Perkins claimed that Pao was paid more than her male counterparts, including bonuses and training. The firm also argued that Pao’s job description was mostly managerial and that limiting her involvement in investing was therefore not a form of discrimination.
The verdict was announced on March 27, 2015. The jury ruled 10 to 2 in favor of Kleiner Perkins on the first three claims, and 8 to 4 in favor of Kleiner Perkins on the fourth claim. Speaking after the trial, juror Steve Sammut said that the verdict came down to performance reviews, in which Pao’s negative criticism remained consistent each year. But he added that he wished there was some way for Kleiner Perkins to be punished for its treatment of employees, “It isn’t good. It’s like the wild, wild West.” Juror Marshalette Ramsey voted in favor of Pao, believing Pao had been discriminated against. Ramsey stated that the male junior partners who were promoted “had those same character flaws that Ellen was cited with.”
Deborah Rhode, law professor at Stanford University, said that even with this loss, Pao’s lawsuit succeeded in prompting debate about women in venture capital and tech. She stated, “This case sends a powerful signal to Silicon Valley in general and the venture capital industry in particular… Defendants who win in court sometimes lose in the world outside it.” After the verdict was announced, Pao stated that she hoped the case at least helped level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital. She later wrote, “I have a request for all companies: Please don’t try to silence employees who raise discrimination and harassment concerns. …I hope future cases prove me wrong and show that our community and our jurists have now developed a better understanding of how discrimination works in real life, in the tech world, in the press and in the courts.” Pao’s case has since been credited for inspiring others facing workplace discrimination to act; similar lawsuits have been filed against companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft.
1. At what points in this case study did Pao make the choice to voice her values? How did she voice her values in each of these instances?
2. Do you think Pao acted on her values effectively? Why or why not? Does the fact that she lost the lawsuit impact your reasoning? Explain.
3. Think through the seven pillars of GVV in relation to the case study above. Can you identify each pillar in Pao’s actions? Are there any pillars that you think Pao could have engaged more effectively? Explain.
4. If you were in Pao’s position at Kleiner Perkins, what would you have done and why? How might the pillars of GVV influence your actions? Select one of the pillars and describe how you would enact it in a situation described in the case study.
5. Based on the information in the case study, if you were a juror would you have ruled in favor of Pao or Kleiner Perkins? Why? How might your own values or biases influence your decision?
6. Have you ever worked at a job where you faced ethically questionable behavior? What did you do? In retrospect, do you wish you had done anything differently? How would you prepare for a similar situation today?
7. Have you ever witnessed or experienced discrimination in the workplace? What did you do? In retrospect, would you have done something differently? What do you think would be the ethically ideal way to handle instances of discrimination in the workplace?
Ellen Pao Loses Silicon Valley Bias Case Against Kleiner Perkins
Kleiner Perkin Portrays Ellen Pao as Combative and Resentful in Sex Bias Trial
Ellen Pao explains why she sued: “I wanted to make sure my story was told’
Ellen Pao wanted “a multimillion dollar payout,” Kleiner lawyers contend
Ellen Pao asked for a $10 million payment from Kleiner Perkins as the cost of ‘not fixing problems’
What the Jury in the Ellen Pao-Kleiner Perkins Case Needed to Decide
A Juror Speaks About His Vote for Kleiner Perkins but Still Wants the Firm to ‘Be Punished’
Ellen Pao Speaks: ‘I Am Now Moving On’
After Loss, Pao Hopes Case Leveled the Playing Field
Pao’s Alleged Firing Could Hurt Kleiner Perkins in Retaliation Suit
Gender Bias Will Soon Shine a Harsh Light on Microsoft
In the fall of 2015, student groups on the campuses of the University of Missouri and Yale University led protests in the wake of a series of racially-motivated offenses that many students saw as part of a history of unsafe or hostile campus climates for students of color, particularly black students. Offenses included verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.
At Yale University, administrators sent an email to students that offered advice on racially-insensitive costumes to avoid for Halloween, including costumes featuring blackface or mock Native American headdresses. Controversy emerged after Erika Christakis, a white lecturer of early childhood education and associate master at one of the university’s residential colleges, sent an email to the students she resided over in which she objected to the call for sensitivity. Christakis debated what she described as an “institutional… exercise of implied control over college students,” asking, “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?” In response, many students signed an open letter to Christakis. In this letter they stated, “We are not asking to be coddled… [We] simply ask that our existences not be invalidated on campus. This is us asking for basic respect of our cultures and our livelihoods.” During a protest, a student confronted Christakis’s husband, Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Yale and master of one of the residential colleges. In disagreement, the students told him to step down, saying that being a master was “not about creating an intellectual space… [but] creating a home here.”
At Missouri, university administrators were criticized for their slow and ineffective responses to address ongoing racial tensions on the campus. After Payton Head, a black student and president of the Missouri Student Association, was taunted with racial slurs, it took university chancellor R. Bowen Loftin nearly a week to respond. Following this and other incidences, students organized rallies and demonstrations. Tensions were made worse after someone used feces to smear a swastika on a communal bathroom in a residence hall. This act of vandalism, and the university’s response, became the final straw for graduate student Jonathan Butler. Butler had led or been involved in many demonstrations up to this point. He decided to go on indefinite hunger strike until university system president, Tim Wolfe, was removed from office. In support of Butler, the football team later announced they would neither practice nor play until Wolfe resigned. Many students joined in support of the protests. Butler ended his weeklong hunger strike after Wolfe resigned.
In the midst of the student protests at Missouri, further controversy emerged when protesters tried to keep news media out of the campus public grounds where protesters had been camping out for days. Student photographer Tim Tai, on assignment for ESPN, was surrounded and confronted by protesters, including university staff members, who did not want any media to enter what they said was a “safe space.” Tai was attempting to document the protests in public spaces, stating, “This is the First Amendment that protects your right to stand here and mine. …The law protects both of us.” A video capturing the confrontation went viral and sparked wider debate over the issue of freedom of speech in the protests at Missouri, Yale, and other college campuses. Journalists, commentators, and academics raised discussion over the roles of free speech, deliberation, and tolerance in the dialogue between student activists and university administrators.
Freelance journalist Terrell Jermaine Starr, in defense of the protesters, wrote: “This wasn’t a problem with Tai’s character or his journalistic integrity; he was doing his job… but reporters should also feel a responsibility to try to understand and respect [the protesters’] pain…” Starr continued: “In many communities that historically have been marginalized and unfairly portrayed by the media, there’s good reason people do not trust journalists: They often criminalize black people’s pain and resistance to racial oppression.” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center, defended free speech as a crucial driver of social justice reform: “[Without] free speech, the “safe spaces” students crave will soon suffocate them. Social movements must evolve or they die. Ideological and even tactical evolution demands willingness to hear out heterodoxy. Likewise, free speech defenders will not win by dismissing students as insolent whiners. …The Black Lives Matter movement and the campus protests are efforts to jump-start a drive for racial equality that has stalled in key areas. Free speech is essential to that quest.”
Writing about the Yale incident, journalist Conor Friedersdorf suggested that the student activists’ intolerance of other views could lead to censorship. He wrote, “[Students] were perfectly free to talk about their pain. Some felt entitled to something more, and that is what prolonged the debate.” Op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof addressed the broader role of freedom of speech on college campuses: “The protesters at Mizzou and Yale and elsewhere make a legitimate point: Universities should work harder to make all students feel they are safe and belong. Members of minorities—whether black or transgender or (on many campuses) evangelical conservatives—should be able to feel a part of campus, not feel mocked in their own community.” Political theorist Danielle Allen, on the other hand, described the debate over freedom of speech as a distraction from the key issues of the protests. Allen wrote, “The issues of free speech matter, too, but they are leading people in the wrong direction, away from the deepest issue. …The real issue is how to think about social equality.”
1. In this case study, who voiced his or her values? Do you think each of these people acted effectively? Why or why not?
2. Think through the seven pillars of GVV in relation to Erika Christakis’ actions. Can you identify each pillar in her actions? Are there any pillars that you think she could have engaged more effectively? Explain.
3. How do Erika Christakis’ actions to voice values compare to Jonathan Butler’s actions to voice values? Was one more effective than the other? Why or why not? Explain.
4. If you were in the position of a student activist at Yale or Missouri, what would you have done and why? How might the pillars of GVV influence your actions?
5. What if you were in the position of a university administrator at Yale or Missouri? What would you have done and why? How might the pillars of GVV influence your actions?
6. If you were in the position to mediate the conflict between Tim Tai and the protesters, how would you engage the GVV pillars to do so? Explain.
7. If you were in Tai’s position, what would you have done, and why? Do you agree with his argument that freedom of speech protects his rights as much as it does the protesters? Explain.
8. How does voicing your own values differ from voicing the values of a group or organization? Explain.
9. Have you ever witnessed or been involved in a protest? In what ways did the group of protestors communicate their message? Do you think this was effective? Why or why not?
10. What do you think is an ethically ideal way to encourage dialogue and equality on college and university campuses? Explain.
At University of Missouri, Black Students See a Campus Riven by Race
Why a Free Speech Fight is Causing Protests at Yale
Mizzou, Yale, and Free Speech
‘Justice is worth fighting for’: A Q&A with the graduate student whose hunger strike has upended the University of Missouri
Who Is Entitled to Be Heard?
There’s a good reason protestors at the University of Missouri didn’t want the media around
The New Intolerance of Student Activism
The real issue at Mizzou and Yale isn’t free speech. It’s social equality.
At U. of Missouri and Yale, obstruction of free speech
A Dialogue on Race and Speech at Yale
This case study discusses the unique challenges to freedom of speech public figures face when negotiating their public image and expressing their own values. It examines the controversy that broke out when Rashard Mendenhall, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, tweeted comments criticizing the celebration of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.
The full case study, discussion questions, and additional resources can be accessed through the link below, which will open a new tab at The Texas Program in Sports & Media website.
Full TPSM Case: Defending the Freedom of Tweets?
The GVV Series
GVV Pillar 7: Reasons & Rationalizations introduces the last principle of “Giving Voice to Values” (GVV). By anticipating the typical reasons and rationalizations given for ethically questionable behavior, we are able to identify and prepare well-reasoned responses. Mary Gentile suggests that there are common arguments and rationalizations that are used to defend unethical or questionable practices, whether in business or in our wider lives. These rationalizations are predictable and vulnerable to reasoned response. Preparing ahead of time to respond to them can make it easier to address ethical problems.
To learn more about values systems and how they vary from culture to culture, watch Fundamental Moral Unit and All is Not Relative. For complimentary approaches to GVV that also offer methods for voicing values and making ethical decisions, watch the four-part Being Your Best Self videos, which include Part 1: Moral Awareness, Part 2: Moral Decision Making, Part 3: Moral Intent, and Part 4: Moral Action. To learn about pervasive social and organizational biases that inhibit voicing values, watch Moral Muteness and Moral Myopia. To discover how voicing values can contribute to professional and personal success, watch Moral Imagination.
The case studies on this page illustrate different ways in which individuals or groups give voice to their values. “Pao & Gender Bias” examines the debate Ellen Pao generated in the venture capital and tech industries when she filed a lawsuit against her employer on grounds of gender discrimination. “Freedom of Speech on Campus” explores how, in the wake of racially motivated offenses at Yale and the University of Missouri, student protesters voiced their values and sparked debate over the roles of free speech, deliberation, and tolerance on campus. “Defending Freedom of Tweets?” takes a look at the backlash Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall received from fans after he tweeted a criticism of the celebration of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. “Full Disclosure: Manipulating Donors” examines the difficult position a student intern was in and how she struggled to voice her values.
Terms related to this video and defined in our ethics glossary include: ethics, behavioral ethics, bounded ethicality, conformity bias, diffusion of responsibility, fundamental attribution error, moral emotions, moral equilibrium, morals, moral reasoning, obedience to authority, rationalizations, role morality, self-serving bias, values, and virtue ethics.
The GVV Approach
The “Giving Voice to Values” (GVV) video series summarizes the key points of Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right, written by Mary Gentile with support from the Yale School of Management and the Aspen Institute. The GVV videos may be watched individually or sequentially. The series will be most useful if viewed in its entirety and with the introductory video.
GVV was created for business ethics programs, but its lessons are broad and apply to all professionals in every field including fine arts, liberal arts, communication studies, social and natural sciences, engineering, education, social work, and medicine. The GVV series can serve as a springboard for further discussion of ethics and values as they pertain to individuals’ professional and personal lives.
GVV identifies the many ways that individuals can – and do – voice their values in the workplace. It teaches people how to build the “moral muscles” necessary to do so, and details the strategies people can use to find the motivation, skill, and confidence to “give voice to their values.”
The goal of GVV is to act consistently with our most deeply held convictions about right and wrong. Research and experience demonstrate that values conflicts will inevitably occur in our professional and personal lives. So, when what we believe and want to accomplish seems to be in opposition to the demands of others (peers, supervisors, organizations, etc.), the ability to successfully voice our values and navigate these differences is crucial. This is the starting point for the GVV curriculum.
GVV consists of seven principles, or pillars, that represent ways of thinking about values, our identity, and our own capabilities. The seven pillars of GVV are: Values, Choice, Normalization, Purpose, Self-Knowledge & Alignment, Voice, and Reasons & Rationalizations. Each video in the GVV series introduces and explains one of the GVV pillars.
Gentile also describes the factors that affect ethical behavior and offers techniques for resisting unethical actions. Ultimately, the curriculum helps people build and practice the skills they need to recognize, speak, and act on their values effectively when conflicts arise.
The GVV approach includes:
* How a leader raises values-based issues in an effective manner – what she/he needs to do to be heard and how to correct an existing course of action when necessary.
* An emphasis on self-assessment and a focus on individual strengths when looking for a way to align one’s individual sense of purpose with that of an organization.
* Opportunities to construct and practice responses to frequently heard reasons and rationalizations for not acting on one’s values.
* Positive examples of times when people have found ways to voice and thereby implement their values in the workplace.
* Practice in providing peer feedback and coaching.
Giving Voice to Values case studies, curriculum, and additional teaching pedagogy are available at no cost to educators at the Giving Voice to Values Curriculum website.
Further details about the “Reasons & Rationalizations” pillar may be found in Chapter Eight of Giving Voice to Values, “Reasons and Rationalizations.”
For a discussion of the “GVV Starting Assumptions,” see Chapter One of Giving Voice to Values, “Giving Voice to Our Values: The Thought Experiment.”
A summary of the seven pillars of GVV may be downloaded here: An Action Framework for Giving Voice To Values—“The To-Do List.”
For further discussion of the GVV approach, see Mary Gentile’s article published in Organization Management Journal, “Values-Driven Leadership Development: Where We Have Been and Where We Could Go.”
Gentile, Mary C. (2010). Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Transcript of Narration
Written and Narrated by
Mary C. Gentile, Ph.D.
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia
““Reasons and Rationalizations” refer to the objections we hear from our colleagues when we try to point out an ethical problem in the way things are being done. Or sometimes we don’t hear the objections because they are the unspoken assumptions of the organization.
It can be difficult to make a strong argument against the assumed “prevailing winds” in an organization if we feel in the minority; or if we don’t feel we have the time to come up with a workable alternative; or if we don’t want to take the chance to present a half-baked response.
If, on the other hand, we anticipate the types of arguments we are likely to hear when we face values conflicts, we can work on pre-scripting persuasive and well-reasoned responses. Just think about the challenges you have faced thus far in your lives, or the kinds of issues you read about in the business press. Certain industries and professions and regions of the world trigger their own types of conflicts, and all of these are fairly predictable.
Likewise the arguments used to justify or explain questionable behaviors are similarly predictable, such as:
- “It’s not my responsibility to deal with this.”
- “This is just standard operating procedure in this industry or in this part of the world.”
- “This may be wrong but it’s not “material” – It’s not a big enough deal to worry about.”
- “I don’t want to get someone in trouble by raising this issue.”
These types of arguments are among the most common “reasons & rationalizations” we hear and they are all vulnerable to counter-argument. For example, if we hear “It’s not my responsibility” to deal with this, the good news is that the speaker is already acknowledging, at least implicitly, that there is a problem. So often the best way to respond to him or her is not to argue that it’s their responsibility, but rather to engage them in brainstorming ways that the situation might be addressed effectively. Once they have some workable ideas for an implementation plan, motivating action is likely to be easier.
Similarly, each of the other “reasons and rationalizations” we might face are surmountable. The responses that have worked for individuals who HAVE found ways to voice and enact their values weren’t necessarily foolproof; they just had to be credible.”