It happens every fall at Penn. Corporate representatives flock like vultures to our campus, eager to take their pick of the brightest students here. From engineers to financial analysts to consultants, they search relentlessly for the students who will create the most value for their companies.
When it comes to career choice, students have many things in mind. Location, pay, prestige, and benefits are all important factors. Yet too often, students ignore the ethics of companies that they seek to join. Beyond merely setting personal passions aside in favor of alluring financial success, Penn students are joining organizations that have concerning impacts on society.
Consider some of the most prestigious firms that recruit Penn students. In the tech world, Amazon continues to underpay and mistreat its warehouse workers, while striving to develop robotic technology to permanently replace them. That’s not even to mention its anti-competitive and tax-evasive practices. Point72 Asset Management, a finance firm that recruits at Penn, is run by Steven A. Cohen, a Wharton alumnus himself who was dubbed “the most wanted man on Wall Street” by journalist Sheelah Kolhatkar for his alleged role in a massive insider trading scheme at his previous company, SAC Capital. Besides its role in the 2008 financial crisis, Goldman Sachs, perhaps the crown jewel of Penn finance recruiting, has come under intense scrutiny for its actions relating to the Malaysian Sovereign Wealth Fund, and several of its employees now face criminal charges.
With the climate strike just behind us, it is also worthwhile to consider the climate impacts of some of the most prestigious companies that recruit at Penn. The news is not good. Fossil fuel companies, including BP and Schlumberger, recruit at Penn, happily paying out huge sums to the next generation of petroleum engineers. While these companies likely pursue some renewable energy initiatives, their fundamental business model is to make hefty profits off of resources that are gravely threatening our planet. Furthermore, many finance and asset management companies, offering prized positions to Penn students, enable fossil fuel companies by insuring their projects and investing huge sums in them. While there is a degree of separation here, these firms have the power to seriously impede the relentless flow of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, and they have refused to do so in service of their bottom line.
We are not fully responsible for the actions of the companies we choose to work for. But we have a deeply privileged status as Penn students. No matter how insanely competitive recruitment at Penn can seem, the fact is that landing a job, for us, is not as challenging as it is for students at less prestigious universities. Being in this position, with such incredible intellectual and social capital, we have a moral imperative to avoid enabling unethical behavior by some of the most powerful people and organizations on the planet.
Admittedly, there are many students for whom pay is not nearly as negotiable as a factor: Those who come from low-income backgrounds, or who must completely support themselves, deserve to live comfortable lives and live without financial struggle. However, since nearly three-quarters of Penn's students come from families in the top 20% of incomes, it is fair to assume that pay will not affect most students’ comfort, only their level of luxury.
Suggesting we add another layer of hand-wringing onto an already stressful job recruitment process may seem outlandish, cruel even. But step back for a moment and think about the recruitment situation at Penn and other elite universities. It sure does work out well for employers to have prospective employees who are desperate to get security, prestige, and money.
But imagine if things were different. Imagine if we, the potential employees these companies covet so greatly, collectively insisted upon ethical behavior from our future employers. It is time to take a stand and demand better from those for whom we will dedicate the majority of our waking hours.
TYLER LARKWORTHY is an Engineering junior from McLean, Va. studying Computer Science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.