Friday Faculty Focus: Erin Bass
September 23rd, 2016
On this week’s episode of Friday Faculty Focus, KVNO’s Brandon McDermott sits down with Dr. Erin Bass. She is an assistant professor at the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Brandon: Dr. Erin Bass thanks for joining me this week.
Dr. Erin Bass: Thank you for having me.
Brandon: I read through a research paper you wrote titled ‘The Ethnographic Method in Corporate Social Responsibility.’ Can you explain what corporate social responsibility is and why it’s important in the modern business setting?
Dr. Bass: Sure, corporate social responsibility has a variety of different definitions. I take it from a very broad standpoint to encompass: the well-being of employees, which of course can include their safety but also their general well-being, the well-being of customers, of partners, of stakeholders. And how organizations adapt to those different pressures that they face, to be responsible and essentially do the right thing in the environments in which they operate.
Brandon: Why is ethnography or the study of people and cultures significant in the study of business administration?
Dr. Bass: Organizations are made up of people. People are part of cultures, whether those are subcultures within an organization, or an organizational culture, or a broader societal culture. So it’s really important to understand the influence that culture and people have on organizations because those are the ones who are actually enacting business practices. So without understanding people and culture we really get a very narrow view of what business is, but also businesses impact on society.
Brandon: I’m sure you’ve read about Wells Fargo being fined $185 million in penalties, this, after claims that managers and bankers at Wells Fargo took part in unethical methods to increase sales numbers. Can you talk about the importance of ethics in business?
Dr. Bass: I don’t think you can separate the two. Maybe ten years ago we would have separate ethics courses or separate ethics modules within a business program. Whether that be undergraduate or graduate and now we’re starting to see this trend to suggest that we should incorporate ethics within all of our business classes at undergraduate and graduate programs. That’s really something that we’ve done here at CBA in a new initiative that we’ve put forth.
All of our students take a business ethics class that they get those foundations of ‘what does it mean to do the right thing in a variety of different organizational settings?’ Whether those are banks like Wells Fargo, non-profits or even within maybe local community sectors. But then we also incorporate ethics across the board in many of our core classes that students receive. So, they’re not just getting it as a one off it’s really integrated into their curriculum. And they’re learning about how businesses achieve success.
Brandon: What is the biggest misconception undergrad students have when it comes to business administration?
Dr. Bass: I think the biggest misconception that undergraduate students have when it comes to a degree in business – is maybe that they think they should know what they’re supposed to do right when they join the College of Business. They know they’re going to go into business and so they think that they should know what their career path is. But at least at UNO, the way that we’ve structured our business degrees at both undergraduate and even to an extent to the graduate level, is it affords them the opportunity to get experience and override a variety of business courses so they’re going to take accounting. So they’re going to take finance, management and marketing.
So, even though they might have come in and thought ‘oh, I’m good at numbers, so I should be an accountant.’ They realize that they really have maybe creative acumen and that they can apply. So, maybe it’s better for them to go into more of a marketing analyst position. We really allow our students to get a broad range of skills and experiences, so that when they come out of the program they maybe have at least started to find their way.
Brandon: Is Business Administration a place for a creative mind to thrive? Why or why not.
Dr. Bass: Absolutely. So, I would call myself a creative mind. Before I went into academia and even before my life in corporate, I used to be a professional ballet dancer. Then, I decided after my career in ballet was over, that I saw many arts organizations fail or not do as well as they possibly could. So, I was really interested in helping these organizations and that’s why I went and got a business degree. Fast forward several years and I decided to go and get my Ph. D. in business. But, I still have that
feeling that; we should even as business professors should be giving back to other parts of society which includes arts organizations. I do think that my training in the arts helps me to see problems differently, but also helps me incorporate those creative elements, not only into my research, but also into my teaching.
Brandon: Is there anything else you’d like to touch on before we go?
Dr. Bass: I think business ethics is something that’s really at the forefront of many people’s minds. We’re hearing about it with Wells Fargo, but also even with what’s happening on in the Dakotas with the pipelines. We need a broader understanding of the different perspectives that people have and stakeholder groups have, so that we can create space for relationships to be built. So that both businesses and society can work together, so that both can thrive. I think that’s a really important point that I try to focus on in my research but also drive home in the classes that I teach.
Brandon: Dr. Bass thanks again for the opportunity.
Dr. Bass: Thanks for having me.
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