«SUNNYVALE I Jim Grimaldi, projects manager in the Sunnyvale division of Universal Corporation, has just learned that in two weeks the headquarters in ...»
Jim Grimaldi, projects manager in the Sunnyvale division of Universal Corporation, has just learned that in two
weeks the headquarters in Los Angeles will be sending him a project engineer, Joan Dreer. Her job will be to
supervise small groups of engineers involved in automotive brake design. The Los Angeles headquarters is
anxious to move women into all company levels, and it has targeted Grimaldi's engineering division at Sunnyvale
as a good place for Joan Dreer.
Joan Dreer will be the first woman engineer at Sunnyvale. On learning that their new supervisor will be a woman, several of the engineers inform Jim Grimaldi that they don't like the idea of a woman supervising their work.
What, if anything, should Jim Grimaldi do to prepare for Joan Dreer's arrival?
II Joan Dreer has been with the Sunnyvale division for several months now. As project engineer she has been supervising the work of several engineering groups involved in automotive brake design. As a projects manager, Jim Grimaldi is Joan Dreer's supervisor. The contracts Joan Dreer's groups have been working on have tight deadlines and allow only extremely narrow margins for error. So, the engineering groups have had to work at maximum speed and under a great deal of pressure. Jim Grimaldi has become increasingly concerned about the
work of the groups under Joan Dreer's supervision. He comments:
A couple of months ago I was sent a new engineer from our plant in Los Angeles, Joan Dreer, and told to put her to work right away as a project engineer. The company was making a push to move women into all company levels but had apparently run into a lot of problems with their engineers down in Los Angeles. They had decided that our place would have the fewest problems adjusting to women and they were pretty insistent that we find a way to work things out. When I first took Joan around our plant so she could get to know the men and the kind of work we do, several of the engineers took me aside and let me know in no uncertain terms that they didn't want a woman to supervise their work. To make matters worse, Joan came on as a pushy and somewhat aggressive feminist. When one of the young engineers asked her if she was a "Miss" or a "Mrs.", she retorted that her private life was her own affair and that he should get used to calling her "Ms."
Jim has not found any of the groups under Joan's supervision outrightly refusing to work. But they do seem to have been dragging their feet in small ways so that sometimes they miss their deadlines. The other groups have also been showing some reluctance to cooperate with the groups under Joan Dreer's supervision. So, Jim has become increasingly concerned about the impact Joan Dreer's presence seems to be having on his ability to meet deadlines, and he is concerned about how this might affect his own career. He is also worried about the safety
factor involved in the brake design. He concludes:
I agree that it's important to move women into supervisory positions in the company, but I don't know whether we can really afford to do it just yet. Women aren't really suited for this kind of work. I don't want to fire any of my engineers. That would be unfair since they have worked hard in the past under a lot of pressure. What should I do?
What do you think Jim Grimaldi should do? Explain. What are the ethical issues involved, and how should they be approached?
[Parts I and II of this case study are from Manuel Velasquez, Business Ethics, lst ed. (Englewood Cliff, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, 1981, p. 6.] III Parts I and II provide little information about Joan Dreer and how she happened to come to the Sunnyvale division. Consider the following possible background information.
Joan Dreer was excited about her transfer to Sunnyvale. But she was also apprehensive. Although she had received very high marks for her work at the Los Angeles headquarters of Universal Corporation, she just gone through an unpleasant experience. Her immediate supervisor made it very clear that, in return for her recent promotion in Universal at Los Angeles, he expected sexual favors. When she resisted, he became verbally abusive and tried his best to make life miserable for her at Universal. His derisive remarks about women engineers did not go unnoticed by others--several of whom found them quite amusing. Fortunately, her complaints to the corporate ombudsman were taken seriously. Disciplinary action was taken against Joan Dreer's supervisor. Joan Dreer also requested to be transfered to a Universal division that might be expected to be more receptive to women engineers. So, she hoped that the Sunnyvale division would give her a fresh start.
Unfortunately, Joan Dreer's first day at the Sunnyvale Division proved to be quite a challenge. She took a small group of engineers by surprise as when she entered the Sunnyvale lounge. A young engineer with his back to the door was commenting that he didn't like the idea of being told how to do his work by a woman, but that he would figure out how to handle the situation once he found out whether she was a 'Miss' or a 'Mrs'. Another added, "Right, Johnson, what are you going to say to her, "Should we call you 'Miss Honey' or 'Mrs. Honey'?" The laughter ended abruptly when Joan Dreer's entrance was noticed. Realizing that she was facing her first challenge, she tersely announced, "Mr. Johnson, my private life is my own affair. You'd better get used to calling me 'Ms'."
How, if at all, does this background information change your understanding of situation described in Part II?
What do you now think are the major ethical concerns? How would you suggest they be approached?
COMMENTARIESTed Lockhart I Jim may feel initially that he has no obligation to do anything special to prepare for Joan's arrival. He may believe that it is the responsibility of supervisors and of the persons they supervise to work out any conflicts that may arise. He may feel that if women are to function effectively as managers at Universal, then they must be able to deal with and overcome the sorts of attitudes that are in evidence among the male engineers at Sunnyvale without any special consideration or accommodation.
However, this would be a superficial and shortsighted attitude for Jim to have. Joan should not have to overcome more obstacles because she is a woman than she would have to overcome if she were a man. Perhaps it is true that the world is imperfect and that women do often have to overcome additional obstacles. However, those obstacles should at least be minimized, and Jim seems to be the best person to minimize them in this situation.
Therefore, Jim should discuss with the engineers whom Joan will supervise what the company policy is regarding women employees at Universal, why it is important to accept and implement that policy at Sunnyvale, why Joan is qualified for the job that she has been assigned, and why it is important both for Joan and for the engineers that she will supervise not to make her job more difficult than it already is. To make Joan's job more difficult simply because she is a woman would be unfair. It is one's ethical obligation not only not to cause injustice but also to prevent and correct injustices cause by others. The engineers whom Joan will supervise should not place obstacles in her way, and Jim should take reasonable measures to prevent them from doing so.
At first glance, this appears to be a case in which duties of justice, to Joan and to women generally, conflict with the "safety, health, and welfare of the general public." If viewed in this light, it seems reasonable to conclude that, while social justice is important as a long-term goal, the more urgent and immediate concern is public safety, which, if not accorded primary importance, may result in deaths and serious injury. However, there may be a way of resolving the difficulties without removing Joan from her supervisory position. One idea is to have a meeting of all of the engineers that Joan supervises and of the engineers in the groups that are not cooperating with Joan's groups together with Joan herself and Jim. The purpose of such a meeting would be to try to get people's feelings expressed openly and to try to clear the air. This meeting would, no doubt, be unpleasant especially for Joan, who may be unwilling to subject herself to such an ordeal. But the end result might be an eventual meeting of minds or at least an accommodation that would enable the groups to function effectively and in a timely fashion. Of course, the risk is that the meeting, and the expression of feelings, resentments, etc., might make matters worse. However, it would be a risk worth taking, especially if the current state of affairs were unacceptable, since it may salvage something from the current situation. It would have to be made clear to everyone that, whatever the outcome, future work must be of acceptably high quality and also must be completed on schedule.
What if Joan and the male engineers cannot reach a suitable accommodation? It is unlikely that attempting to coerce the engineers into changing their behavior in a satisfactory way would be successful. Even if the resisting engineers could all be replaced, which is highly unlikely, firing them seems too drastic. Thus, if something must give, removing Joan from her supervisory position seems to be a lesser evil than removing the engineers that she is now supervising. However, before taking further action, Jim should re-examine his own attitudes about women supervisors at Sunnyvale and about Joan in particular. His statements that "Joan came on as a pushy and somewhat aggressive feminist" and that "[w]omen aren't really suited for this kind of work" indicate that Jim himself harbors some anti-women prejudices and is not completely sold on having women supervisors under his direction. For example, would a man who exhibited Joan's behavior be described in some similar derogatory way, or would he be characterized more positively as "ambitious and hard-driving"? Maybe Jim should be more honest with himself about his own attitudes toward women as professional colleagues. Perhaps some soulsearching would help him both to understand the attitudes of the male engineers at Sunnyvale and to do what is necessary to help Joan succeed in a supervisory capacity.
This background information certainly does explain Joan's very defensive reaction to her first encounter with the male engineers at Sunnyvale. And perhaps it represents a common experience of far too many women who try to succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields like engineering. If so, then perhaps it shows that it is not enough simply to remove barriers that have traditionally kept women out of engineering altogether--e.g. discouraging women from majoring in engineering in college, the absence of role models for women who might be inclined to choose engineering as a career, etc. Perhaps it shows that, without aggressively and consistently encouraging women to enter engineering and to remain in engineering and changing the culture of engineering so that women engineers are not viewed as oddities, the day when women will be fully accepted in engineering will not arrive in the foreseeable future. If so, then perhaps in the interests of social justice and of not depriving engineering of the talents and intelligence of over 50% of the population "special treatment" for women engineers is warranted.
Such special treatment would include recognizing that women engineers typically must overcome many obstacles that men do not usually have to contend with. In this case, Joan must deal with sexual harassment, which men ordinarily do not encounter. Her defensive reaction to what may have been intended only to be humorous and innocent is much more understandable and excusable in light of her background. Even though the male engineers perhaps did not know this about her at the time, their awareness of the fact that her circumstances are unfortunately all too common for professional women should help them not to overreact to her behavior. It should also help Jim Grimaldi to create an atmosphere at Sunnyvale in which incidents like her initial encounter with the engineers do not occur or, if they do occur, they are quickly defused and do not escalate into situations like that occurring in Scenario II.
Lea P. Stewart
Imagine yourself walking down a street in an unfamiliar neighborhood at night. You come to a corner, and you have two choices--walking down a well-lighted street or walking down a dark alley. Which one do you choose?
You probably picked the well-lighted street. Given the circumstances, this seems like the reasonable choice. But why? Your choice illustrates a facet of decision making that has received a great deal of research support. When people are asked to make a decision in the absence of full information (you really don't know anything about this hypothetical neighborhood), they usually make their decision on the basis of stereotypes. We choose well-lighted streets because we think they will be safer. In this situation, we are probably right, but what about other situations?
In this case, the engineers at the Sunnyvale division of Universal Corporation make a decision with only limited information, and they make it on the basis of stereotypes. When they hear that their new supervisor is a woman, their perception of her conforms to their stereotyped notions of a "woman boss," and they react to her accordingly. They really don't know anything about her, but they assume that they will have a hard time with her because she is a woman and not like them. And they do. They see her as a "pushy and somewhat aggressive feminist" because she responds to a remark by saying that her private life is her own affair and that she should be called "Ms." not "Miss" or "Mrs." They never really give her a chance to prove herself as a supervisor. In a way, they are experiencing a self-fulfilling prophecy. They believe that they will not be able to get along with a female boss (probably because they have never worked with one before) and so they are not able to get along with Joan.