Critical ethical issues in the human resource development field

Dr. Donna L. Roberts
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Professional ethics are the means by which practitioners maintain the integrity of their field. As such they are of utmost importance to the survival of the individual operating within that discipline as well as of the field itself.

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) identified thirteen ethical issues in the Human Resource Development (HRD) field (1989). Of those identified, an interest in and representation of individual and population differences and using power appropriately, represent two very critical issues in the field today.

In today’s global marketplace diversity is no longer a faddish buzzword, but a daily reality. It encompasses broad categories of differences among people who work side by side, either literally or in cooperative function. Today, diversity is not limited to the standard divisions typically considered (i.e., color, creed, race, national origin), but includes all manner of differences which can either serve to strengthen or to weaken an organization.

The ethical issue of showing respect for, interest in and representation of individual and population differences can ensure that the diversity is a strength which unites the organization rather than a dividing weakness. Since the whole field of HRD centers around people as a valuable resource, it is critical that HRD professionals themselves respect that resource. All of the ensuing goals around which this field moves forward mandates that we value the diversity, in whatever form it arises.

Additionally, the appropriate use of power is a critical ethical issue. In any circumstance where a power differential exists it is the responsibility of the entity with the greater power to refrain from taking advantage of that situation. HRD professionals often find themselves in situations where they have access to a great deal of power and influence via certain knowledge that they are privy to, certain roles that they play or certain systems they can manipulate. Abusing those circumstances for personal gain at the expense of others or in ways that cause harm to others is a real-world possibility and one with heavy implications in the lives of others. HRD professionals must maintain their sense of balance, fairness and neutrality especially when placed in a situation or role which affords then much power.


McLagan, P. A. & Suhadolnik, D. (1989). Models for HRD practice: Theresearch report. Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training and Development.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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