Corporate officeholders perceived less ethically than last year

Corporate officeholders perceived less ethically than last year

23 November 2021 By Jerome Doraisamy

New research shows that professionals in corporations are seen as being less ethical than they were in 2020.

Ethics Index 2021

Governance Institute of Australia has released its sixth annual Ethics Index, quantifying the Australian adult population’s perception of the overall importance of ethics and what the actual level of ethical behaviour is within Australian society.

As reported last week by Lawyers Weekly, when asked how they perceive the ethical behaviour of Australian legal professionals, just one-third (37 per cent) of respondents said they see lawyers across the country as either “somewhat ethical” or “very ethical”. The same number of respondents said they see lawyers as being “somewhat unethical” or “very unethical”, while 26 per cent were neutral.


That gave lawyers a net ethical score of zero, which marked a significant drop from the 2020 figure of +11.

Judges were not immune to worsening perceptions, either. After receiving a net ethical score of +57 in 2020, those sitting on the bench scored +48 this year.

Interestingly, law societies – as member associations – slightly improved their perceived level of ethics from Australians, moving from +47 last year to +50 in 2021.

Perceptions of corporate professionals

On the whole, the corporate sector saw a “softening” of its ethical perception in 2021, dropping from +19 to +14 since last year.


As was the case in 2020, company secretaries were perceived as the most ethical professional in a corporate environment. This said, while 45 per cent of respondents to the survey see corporate secretaries as either “somewhat ethical” or “very ethical”, 21 per cent see them as “somewhat unethical” or “very unethical”, for a net score of +24, down from +29 in 2020.

Directors of Australian companies scored +12 (down from +17 last year), CFOs scored +10 (down from +19), CEOs and managing directors scored +6 (down from +10), and chairs scored +5 (down from +10).

When asked about the top issues that relate to perceived unethical behaviour, 59 per cent of respondents pointed to corruption (up from 57 per cent in 2020).

Misleading and deceptive conduct is now the second-leading issue, going from 45 per cent to 51 per cent in 2021, while companies avoiding taxation remained steady at 47 per cent.

Discrimination slightly increased from 44 per cent to 46 per cent, and bullying in the workplace saw a big jump in its perception of unethical behaviour in a corporation, going from 39 per cent to 45 per cent.

Interestingly, environmental responsibility and its nexus to perceived unethical behaviour remained steady at 40 per cent, as did workplace health and safety (at 34 per cent).  

Corporate officeholders perceived less ethically than last year
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