The purpose of this paper is to report findings from interviews with ethical advisors (or those in equivalent positions) at five major aerospace companies. Using these interviews, I intended to explore what means were available for employees to voice ethical concerns that may arise in the workplace. To maintain a core of similarity across the corporations, I mailed the same scenario to each advisor. The scenario, which is included in this study, described a hypothetical situation in which an employee is concerned with the way the corporation is handling a particular contract.
The scenario was intended to be intricate but incomplete. Depending on its interpretation, the problem could reflect a major safety issue, a minor operation issue, or a trivial problem. I chose this scenario because the problems it poses are similar to those that arose when a planned system for Boeing/Sikorsky's Comanche helicopter was scrapped, due to the fact that exhaustively testing the system was too difficult. I personally believe that someday, if such a system is finally developed, even then it will be impossible to fully test it. In addition, because I can easily see myself encountering some of the subtle issues presented in the scenario, I wanted to examine various large aerospace companies handle such concerns. Therefore, I felt the best approach would be to use the scenario as a point of departure for examining and comparing many aspects of the companies' built-in systems for handling ethical concerns.
Unfortunately, this approach led to some problems in the interviews. The scenario was a little too technical and a little too intricate. Some of the interviewees did not want to treat it as anything more than a managerial or an organizational problem. In general, the interviewees were not as flexible in working within or around the scenario as I had anticipated. For the most part, they seemed to have definite ideas about the way their company worked, and preconceived notions about how the scenario did or did not fit that image. In hindsight, it would have been better to have a shorter, more well-defined problem rather than trying to explore so many avenues at once. Furthermore, it would have helped to take a more realistic approach, specifically concerning the position of the (relatively) new employee and the contract in question.