For the first of two (or more) Friday With Joan articles on ethics, I chose to highlight this interview with Paul A. Greenberg, a journalist, professor of communications and former member of the hospitality industry who I had the privilege of working with on a meeting in New Orleans some years ago.

We’ve stayed in touch and had so many deep discussions about the issues facing the profession in which I continue to work and that Paul left, and about how to convey ethical principles.

In the follow-up article(s), likely later this month, we will delve more deeply into the issues with responses from many—to which I hope you will be willing to also contribute. Please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com to discuss further.

The questions are mine and the responses, Paul’s, and are not necessarily a reflection of the views of the owners and journalists at Meetings Today.

Joan: As a journalist, by what ethics policies were you governed—a professional affiliation? Your employer?

Paul: The Society of Professional Journalists has a code of ethics. Also, the newspaper for which I [once] worked had its own code of ethics. Additionally, the profession of journalism, as taught in the best journalism schools, teaches best practices. Journalists are expected to subscribe to all of this.

Joan: As a professor/teacher, by what ethics are you governed?

Paul: There is nothing written that I know of that prescribes ethics for college professors. Most higher ed institutions are still dedicated to academic freedom. So, my short answer is we are not really governed by any formal set of ethics. [Joan’s Note: In searching Tulane’s information, I found various codes for student behavior, purchasing and others. If someone reading this can point us to the code for those who teach, we’d be grateful.]

Joan: In teaching, what are the potential conflicts of interest you face? What helps you determine how to decide the most ethical course of action? Is that always the “best” course?

Paul: The greatest potential conflict of interest I have faced has to do with educating athletes. For example, the football players have “athletic advisors” who actually serve as their advisors on several issues. Those advisors sometimes contact me to voice their concerns about low grades for certain athletes.

There always seems to be a subtext in their calls to me, a subtle suggestion that somehow these athletes need to achieve higher grades in order to stay qualified to be on the team. If I were to cooperate and offer them bonus opportunities to better their grade, that would be unfair to other students. But there is always this unwritten pressure to promote the athletes. I won’t do it. I am determined to grade students what they earn.

[Joan’s Note: This is very much like what I’ve heard from professors in hospitality who are pressured to give “good grades” to student athletes.]

Joan: Is it possible to teach ethical behaviors? If so or if not, what is most important to convey?

Paul: Yes, absolutely. I have taught ethics courses for 20 years, and in addition to teaching the multiple philosophies related to ethics, I also teach preferred ethical behavior.

Inside of that is course content about truth, privacy, social justice, offensive media content and a host of other ethical topics. I teach how to navigate ethical dilemmas.

If one intends to work in the media industries, it is my opinion that in the course of their education, someone needs to compel them to think about their behavior as communication professionals, as well as their training for the job function. To me, teaching ethical behavior comes back always to respect, fairness and truth, three elements of human behavior that are sorely lacking now.

For example, is it ethical to write about Stormy Daniels and refer to her as a porn star? First, she is not a “star.” Second, she is an adult film actress and producer. She is not afforded the same respect as say, Dr. Blasey Ford, when she is written about in the media. This has only to do with her chosen profession.

So, I would put forth that Daniels is not afforded respect, fairness or truth. Is it ethical to describe a perpetrator of a crime as a black man, but refer to a white perpetrator simply as the alleged perpetrator?

Words matter. Regard for human dignity matters.

Joan: Because you were once in hospitality, what do you see now that compares to what you faced then, ethically?

Paul: Women [guests], in many instances, have been rather unsafe at some hotels. Even women who work at the hotels are sometimes unsafe. Now, some hotels are showing more regard for their housekeepers, for example, by giving them some form of technology, referred to as “panic buttons,” to use if they are threatened in the course of their work. Some hotels will now use more secure locking systems on their guest rooms doors, making it more difficult to access a hotel room.

[Joan's Note: In addition to blogging about the #MeToo issue for Meetings Today, I spoke about this at the 2018 Global Meetings Industry Day Event in Chicago. Further, on the Twitter account for @meetingstoday we try to keep current on the changes by Marriott and other companies and cities on their protections for their employees].

[Editor's Note: Read more on the rollout of "panic buttons" at major hotels from Meetings Today].

I also see some progress in hiring and promotions. I worked for Westin Hotels from 1983 to 1988, and at that time there was not one female general manager in the entire company. Women hit the glass ceiling at director of sales and marketing. There was no way up from there. It is my understanding that women have made some career progress in the industry today. There is not equality, but there is progress. [Two related articles, Taking the "man" out of General Manager and How Women Became More than Half of the Hospitality Workforce, explain more].

As for men in the industry, during the 1980s if you were white, reasonably attractive and looked good in a suit, you were in. And even those who perhaps should not have been retained because of their job performance often found themselves promoted by the hospitality boys’ club.

Front desk clerks were generally female, and physically attractive. An overweight or unattractive female rarely worked at the front desk. Female food servers were required to wear at least a 2-inch heel, which obviously was a sexist requirement and one that caused great physical discomfort. When I worked in hotels for many years there were very few minority employees who achieved anything past middle management. I think there is greater diversity among upper management now, although certainly not as much as there should be.

Joan: And what am I not asking that I should?

Paul: I see ethics as synonymous with morals.

Should hospitality industry employees be evaluated at some point for their own moral code, implicit biases and impulse control as it may relate to their interactions with guests? I would say yes.

Recently, I stayed at a hotel in New York City. I was at the front desk checking in and next to me was a black woman who had clearly arrived prior to my arrival. The white male desk clerk treated me completely differently than the way he treated the woman. He was deferential and respectful toward me, and almost blatantly dismissive of the black woman. His bias was completely visible by both of us. He made an attempt to check me in before her, and I refused. I told him that she was here before me. And I also called him out on his behavior. 

If a potential employee is to be put on the “front lines” where he or she will deal directly with guests, there needs to be evaluation and training as it relates to dealing with a diverse group of customers. I do not see that happening, and if and when it does occasionally happen, it’s usually a short seminar that happens once during their term of employment. People must be taught the basics of ethical behavior.

I repeat: Respect, truth and fairness.

Related Reading From the October 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

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