The sound of the tone

A big part of what execs are supposed to do to lead ethics in their companies, is to set and maintain “tone at the top.” That’s part words, part actions, and part the intersection of the two — making it clear that your business action is motivated by, and consistent with, your ethical vision.

Good schooling in how to do that from President Obama, right off the bat.

Put politics and policy arguments aside for a moment, and listen to what he said on January 29, 2009, when he signed the “Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act,” making it easier to make claims for wage discrimination.

So in signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message: That making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone. That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it’s not just unfair and illegal – but bad for business – to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability. And that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook – it’s about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.

Ultimately, though, equal pay isn’t just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families, it’s a question of who we are – and whether we’re truly living up to our fundamental ideals. Whether we’ll do our part, as generations before us, to ensure those words put to paper more than 200 years ago really mean something – to breathe new life into them with the more enlightened understandings of our time.

Tip to self: Tone at the top = Explaining an executive action by saying “it’s a question of who we are.”

If you mean it.

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