Show me the ethics! Business school students choose ethical employers over high salaries

19 March 2019


Nearly one in five business-school students are willing to sacrifice more than 40% of their salary to work for a responsible employer according to a major new survey. Only a small fraction (5%) wouldn’t sacrifice any of their future earnings to do so.

These are the key findings of the 2018 PRME survey of business schools worldwide, its data collected by Macquarie University’s Professor Debbie Haski-Leventhal at Macquarie Graduate School of Management under the auspices of the United Nations.

Respondents resided in 40 countries across six continents with most respondents coming from Australia (27.8%) followed by Brazil, India, Germany, New Zealand, the US and the UK.

‘Using the power of business as a force for good’

Professor Haski-Leventhal says, “Corporate social responsibility is about business acting in a responsible way towards all its stakeholders, embedding responsible management in everything that the company does. It is beyond philanthropy or obeying the law – it is about being a good corporate citizen and leading business in a trustworthy manner. It is about using the power of business as a force for good.”

A big impact on the behaviour of senior management

Given that two-thirds of respondents (68.5%) are already working full or part time, and a third (33.7%) are studying for an MBA and on the senior-management fast track, this is likely to be more than mere virtue signalling and can be expected to have a significant impact on the behaviour of senior management in the future.

Professor Haski-Leventhal says, “Responsible management education is about preparing the next generations of business leaders to … be responsible and ethical as individuals and in the organisations they lead. It is about the role of business schools to create a better world.”

‘Young people do not tolerate unethical behaviour’

Regarding recent high-profile corporate misdeeds, Professor Haski-Leventhal says, “The survey sends a very strong signal to employers and educators that young people do not tolerate unethical behaviour and that they expect businesses and business schools to step up and speak up. The students’ attitudes towards corporate social responsibility and responsible management – and their demand of business schools to deliver more on this front – send a loud and clear message.

She says that while it’s easy to sacrifice a non-existing salary, these results show just how committed business students are when it comes to working for socially responsible companies.

Making a profit at any cost is no longer acceptable

This commitment is supported by seven out of ten (71.3%) respondents disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the statement that “The most important concern for a firm is making a profit – even if it means bending or breaking the rules.”

Business-school students also ranked a business’s ethical responsibilities as being the most important (93.5% say it is important or very important) followed by its legal, financial and philanthropic responsibilities. And even though philanthropy is ranked the lowest of the four, nearly two-thirds (62.7%) of respondents consider it important or very important.

The goal of the fourth report of the international PRME-MGSM study on business students was to examine the attitudes of students attending the 720 business schools worldwide that are signatories to the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) towards corporate social responsibility and responsible management education. Most of the respondents were under 35 years of age: 41% were aged 18-15 and 39% aged 26-35. The biennial survey was previously conducted in 2011, 2013 and 2016. The report is available here.

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