Kelsey Medeiros came to UNO’s College of Business Administration as an assistant professor of management in 2019. In addition, she is a co-founder of Ethics Advantage, an ethics consulting firm, and recently signed a book deal discussing leadership lessons from the women leading us through the pandemic.
Medeiros will be teaching a new, never-before-taught course for freshmen CBA Scholars, Business with Conscience, in spring 2021.
We sat down with Medeiros to ask about her work.
Q: Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you end up in Omaha?
A: I am originally from Orange County, California. I went to college at Penn State and then after that, I moved to Oklahoma for graduate school. My first job was in Texas, so I have bounced around a bit.
I spent a few years in Dallas, which I really enjoyed, and then I was offered this position at UNO. I had been here a few times and loved Omaha. So I was extra excited about the opportunity!
Q: You research “workplace troublemakers”. What does that mean?
A: Workplace troublemakers capture two different types of troublemakers.
The first type of trouble is what we typically think of as people who are troublemakers in an organization—people who are wreaking havoc, breaking the rules, breaking the norms, and just creating problems.
However, one of my areas of research is in sexual harassment in the workplace. In doing that research with a colleague at University of New Hampshire, we found that often people who report sexual harassment or those who have been sexually harassed themselves are labeled troublemakers by organizational leaders. We will often hear women who report harassment say, “I don’t want to report it because I don’t want to make trouble. I don’t want to be seen as a troublemaker.”
There are two sides to this trouble-making coin. One is these people who are just making noise, breaking rules to break rules. But then there is another good and positive side, where people break the norms and challenge the status quo to spark change or progress. This is where things like creativity research comes into play because we need people who are thinking about big ideas and thinking about “does this rule need to stay or if we bend it, what positive outcome might we see?”
Women in leadership are often seen as troublemakers as well as they break gender stereotypes and then move through the ranks of an organization; they are making another type of trouble.
And with my last area of research—ethics—bad actors and unethical cultures make trouble in a way that we really do not want. It is costly for organizations on many levels.
If we look at troublemaking more complexly, then we can ask questions like: How do we encourage good trouble and discourage bad trouble? What does that look like? What does that mean? How can we discourage unethical behavior? How can we encourage women to continue breaking gender stereotypes and provide them with support? How can we encourage women and other victims of sexual harassment to come forward and to report and also discourage the harassing behavior itself? How can we encourage creativity that promotes ethicality, sustainability, and positive outcomes for the world?
Q: You are the cofounder of an ethics consulting firm, Ethics Advantage. What kind of work does the firm do?
A: After graduate school, I was doing a lot of work in the ethics space and my other cofounders and I realized that the research that we were doing and reading was not really reaching organizations. It was staying in academia. The perspective that organizations often take on ethics is really legal focused, which it is obviously important to follow the law. But equally as important is the human behavior lens, or an understanding of decision making and how we can help people make more ethical decisions in the workplace. Ethics Advantage provides leadership, development, and decision-making tools to help people identify their decision-making patterns and where that might lead them astray when they face an ethical dilemma. We do work with culture coaching, leadership development training, and ethics trainings. That is a really fun area to see research in action and to see how it can make a real impact in organizations.
Q: Why is ethics important for businesses to take seriously?
A: There are a lot of reasons to take ethics seriously. You can look at it from a business case perspective. Consumers are more aware; there is more information out there about what companies are doing. We know that people are more willing to engage with organizations who are behaving more ethically and engaging in corporate social responsibility.
Being unethical is also costly. If you have an ethics scandal, it could cost millions. It will wreak havoc on your organization to not have an open culture where people feel they can raise issues and where transparency is central.
The three buckets of why to take ethics seriously are 1) Avoid scandal 2) Consumers will be interested, so it is going to pay off and 3) Your organization is going be more affective if you have a culture that supports ethics.
Q: You also research women in leadership roles. What advice do you have for young women who want to lead?
A: One of the big things to do is to look at role models. We know role models make a huge difference in terms of girls feeling that they can be successful and to reach those leadership positions. Women too can look to them to see that they can be leaders, but also to learn from what they are doing and how they are acting.
For example, most women—if not all women—have been in that position where they have been interrupted by someone in a meeting and do not always have the words or know the way to respond. As we see more women in power responding to these interruptions, they serve as role models that provide us with the words and the language to then respond effectively.
There are a lot of really cool, outstanding women doing awesome things; pay attention to them.
Q: What do you think is the biggest issue for women in leadership in the workplace?
There are a number of issues that women face, but one of the driving factors is: stereotypes. Women do not historically align with our stereotypes of what we perceive effective leadership to look like, in terms of expectations of how they are meant to behave or not behave, what they are meant to say or not meant to say. These stereotypes influence all of our interactions and our perceptions of one another.
These stereotypes can then become encoded in the organizational system. It then creep into all aspects of organizations—promotion, hiring, firing, training, and development, you name it. It becomes a systematic issue. It is not about this one big bad guy in a leadership position who is sexist, hates women, and is not going to promote them. Those people exist, but the issue is much more systemic. It is the decisions being made every day that that impacts women.
Q: I understand you like to travel. Where are some of the places you have been and where is your favorite place to travel to?
So many! South Africa because of the wine, good food, amazing weather, really nice people. Second is India. I went there in 2019 and absolutely loved it. Someone described it to me as an assault on the senses and that was 100 percent accurate. It is an amazing place—a beautiful culture with beautiful people. Third is Japan. It is like an out-of-body experience because it is such a different culture from the US that you really feel like you have stepped into another world.
One of the reasons I love to travel is because when you are somewhere you do not speak the language and you are not familiar with the culture, it really challenges what you know, what you value and what you think is important. It opens your eyes to new ways of seeing things.