Philosophy and the value of critical thinking in a volunteering role – post 2 of 3


Philosophy for Living – in Business, Volunteering and Career:

The Value of Critical thinking in a volunteering role.

In this second of 3 posts written by Lee Madden, Philosophy, Edinburgh, graduate 2006, now management consultant with EY., on the value of Philosophy for Business and Career,  Lee reflects on the key role philosophy plays in his role as a volunteer with the Women’s Network at professional services firm EY.

The EY Womens Network

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a guy. I also volunteer with the EY Women’s Network and have done since the start of 2016. I used to say that the question I heard the most from people was why did you do a degree in Philosophy?”, but over the last year it has been Why do you work with the WOMENS network?”

In short, I decided to work with them for two reasons:

  1. I believe gender equality is important
  2. I believed that I could help them think “better” about complex issues such as gender equality in the work place.

There are loads of stats that I could quote about gender equality, but the simplest one to illustrate the point is the ratio of males to females in senior leadership positions in Financial Services. Bear in mind that we are in a developed country and EY is considered one of the more “progressive” businesses and even then, we’re looking at a work force that is split equally 50/50 male to female but 80% of senior leadership are males. This shocked me!

Now, there are a bunch of reasons why this is the case and they are complex, multi layered and even controversial. In fact, there is no real consensus about either the causes or best way to address such a complex question of “how do you achieve gender equality” and depending on who you ask, you’ll likely get multiple different definitions of just what gender equality even is.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it’s quite simple, I realised that there was a real gap in the business regarding people either understanding the problem or being able to talk about it in an informed way. This in turn led me to conclude that if we’re not able to have high quality and open conversations as a corporate community, how on earth can we ever expect to address it effectively?

I decided to volunteer and began working with the network by exploring really challenging ideas with people. For example, maybe we needed to target some of our events at guys, not just women and we needed to think really carefully about how we did this. It required a number of complex and challenging discussions where I had to help people explore ideas they were initially not very comfortable with and think through competing points of view. There are a couple of different ways to do this, but just demonstrating to people that you can be comfortable debating and exploring complex subjects with them is helpful for both themselves and the business. I call this role modelling constructive and critical thinking and the feedback that I have is that people find this incredibly useful.

There is also value in sharing competing viewpoints and working with someone to help them better understand their own opinion. This at its most basic is what Philosophy is really about and there is something incredibly rewarding about working with a group of people who at the end of a discussion say “thank you, you really helped me understand and articulated my position more clearly”. Often, it is not a matter of taking sides or “winning” an argument, the value is in the quality of the discussion itself and that becomes the output.

In addition to the above, I always had an interest in ethics and morality and there is something very rewarding about doing something that feels ethically ‘right’. There are not many opportunities to work on something that ties so closely to my own values of equality and fairness.

Other posts in this series

Philosophy and a business challenge

Philosophy and career decisions 

If you’ve any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Lee at

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