I believe that corporate employees working within the confines and rules of the organization, have all the tools required to act ethically. When an individual is asked to do something that they may even suspect would be detrimental to their livelihood, then they have all the rights given to them to not follow through with that action. In the case of Betty Vinson of WorldCom, while she had the clear understanding that her actions were wrong, she clearly kept personal financial safety ahead of her moral and ethical standards.
This eventually translated into an even more detrimental result, which was jail time.
She clearly did not have a fully developed moral compass, which would have prompted her to either refuse to make the fraudulent entries, or leave her job immediately, if the first was not an option. Lawrence Kohlberg defined six stages of moral reasoning, which he broke down into three different levels. I believe that Betty Vinson fell into level one, obedience and punishment orientation, to be specific.
As stated earlier, she was emphatically against making the fraudulent accounting entries because she understood that they were wrong, she even went as far as making the initial decision to resign from her position.
However, she was afraid to quit her position because she feared that it would have been extremely difficult to obtain a similar job at her age. As Kohlberg described the pre-conventional level, whereby this is “a level of moral reasoning is especially common in children, although adults can also exhibit this level of reasoning. Reasoners at this level judge the morality of an action by its direct consequences. ” Therefore, Ms. Vinson directly ignored her moral compass because its direct consequences were dire to her personally, and even more so, from a financial perspective.
It is true that she had the moral reasoning of a child. I am inclined to question the point that Kohlberg makes, which is that Ms. Vinson lacked free will. As an adult, she had the free will to take whatever action she deemed necessary to safeguard her lifestyle. She had the autonomy to walk out the door and avoid eventual jail time. I believe that the governing laws of WorldCom did not withhold her from saying “no” and proceeding to look for another career option.
I think what may have stopped er from doing so, besides her personal financial worries, was the fact that the corporate culture at WorldCom was shaped by the top two executives, CEO Bernie Ebbers and CFO Scott Sullivan. Their leadership style was very hierarchical and autocratic. The notion of do as told and do not question your superiors permeated the workplace environment. Ebbers had total control in the indoctrination of the corporate culture from the lowest ranks of the line employee all the way to top management and the Board of Directors. This gave him great latitude to pursue self-serving interests.
Ultimately Ebbers shaped the morals of each employee in order to meet his requirements of high revenue performance and meeting financial targets. WorldCom’s culture dictated individuals’ morals and ideologies rather than the employee’s morals shaping the company. Having said that, one can conclude that Ms. Vinson had been pulled into the corporate culture that Ebbers pushed, and she therefore almost had no choice but to follow his requests and be a “team player”. Betty Vinson was no different than any other employee when it came to being a company loyalist and following the internal beliefs demanded upon her.
She was no stranger to big bonuses and large raises, which helped to allay any doubts of her allegiance to Ebbers and WorldCom. Ms. Cooper on the other hand, did what she thought was the right thing, and did so independently, without any coercion. She is a good example of how a person can make decisions by respecting and following authority. I conclusion, there was a stark difference between the two women’s thought process and Ms. Cooper had a better handle on the consequences of whatever actions she may have deemed appropriate in the WorldCom case.