Tech Leaders: Ethics Matter

When I look at the new generation of consumers and clientele, I have come to notice their love and obsession with subscription modes of consumption. Be it video streaming or buying their favourite products, paying a monthly fee of a small amount seems to garner their loyalty to products and services. I have been no stranger to a subscription, and a few weeks ago I was in an entanglement with a service I no longer wished to subscribe to. After several emails confirming the service had been cancelled, sure enough the annual fees were automatically deducted from the credit card. The whole ordeal reminded me of subscribing to a membership at a gym which I was trying to get out of. Every time I tried to unsubscribe, out came a personal trainer who promised me something so charmingly that I rethought my decision to unsubscribe. However, this service I was trying to unsubscribe from confirmed how little companies cared about their customers and got me wondering about the ethics in leadership of these tech solutions.

A white paper released by the World Economic Forum back in 2018 posed a question within its very elaborate account of values, ethics, and innovation- ‘How can technologies enable a meaningful future for humankind?’ A question that leaders or founders had at their core when they started out and faded through time turning into something that focuses on a quest for creating value for their stakeholders. I often wonder whether a leader in technology is constricted by bounded ethicality which HBR defines as the ‘systemic cognitive barriers that prevent us from being as ethical as we wish to be.’

Ethics in technological leadership has been addressed in terms of the technology produced as opposed to the environment of the ecosystem. Leadership needs to focus on creating value beyond shareholders. An ethical challenge would be to create an ecosystem and build an infrastructure that is all-inclusive. An open platform that lets developers, strategists, analysts, and leaders from different demographics to collaborate and feel empowered while collaborating.

I have stressed the need of making “Growth = Collaborate + Empower” a formula that all leaders implement. The ethical responsibility of a leader is put to test when we assess the meaningful future they are creating for their community. My initial thoughts are on two aspects of ethical responsibility to provoke further thinking on.

Ethics for an Equal Opportunity

Companies have incorporated an equal opportunity strategy in their hiring process; however, equal opportunity within the community is yet to be initiated. A community that is running completely on egalitarian principles will probably remain hypothetical, but a step towards enabling equal opportunity would be through awareness by leadership. John Rawls an American philosopher developed the ‘Fair Equality of Opportunity’, a theory that enforced opportunity within a community irrespective of factors that set people apart like culture, wealth, geography, personality, and beliefs. The theory was to let people thrive in a meritocratic manner. Assimilating Rawls’ theory of equal opportunity within the community would empower its people leading to growth.

Ethics in Technology Leadership

Ethics in technological leadership is not only with the technology but right from the decision-making process of the technology/product. Ethical dilemmas arise more often than you think when a leader is making decisions . Whether it’s with organisational culture or product design, leadership is faced with the moral obligation towards its community to align with its values. There have been instances when leadership consciously or unconsciously turns a blind eye to unethical doings when they are in the process of maximising benefit for their stakeholders and enhancing the growth of their company or technology.

Big Data and data mining have become a part of a company’s product development process, whether it is to mould the product according to analytics from the data mined or to target specific datasets in order to spike growth. I’ve heard leaders stand by the excuse that the customer should have read the fine print where they mentioned that they mined their data. The focus is so much towards creating value for their stakeholders that the damage caused to the privacy of a consumer is completely overlooked. Technologies mirror the values of their creators and their leadership. The responsibility of maintaining ethics in their product/service is seldom prioritised over finding technical solutions for the community.

Leaders need to ponder over the bounded ethicality they are constrained within and how that is affecting their consumership. As a leader, the first step could be reassessing decisions and taking into account ethical considerations across every aspect of the business. Transparency has been called upon more by todays consumers and some leaders have promised an ethical consumership but have failed to deliver. Striving to constantly change the way the industry approaches immersive technologies and experiences, towards an ecosystem where technology thrives hand in hand with all stakeholders- leaving no one behind on the journey of digital adoption should be the basis of ethics in technological leadership.

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