Novel Insights on (Hiring) Discrimination: Moral Balancing Effects on the Individual-, Policy-, and Observer-Level

Christopher Lennartz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisThesis 4: defended at external organisation, OU (co-)supervisor, external graduate

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The fields of behavioral ethics and moral psychology have demonstrated the contextual malleability of moral and immoral behavior of people. One particular observation is that people balance moral and immoral behavior on a moment-to-moment base, also referred to as moral balancing. When people engage in moral behavior, their moral self-image increases, which subsequently allows them to engage in immoral behavior (moral licensing). When people engage in immoral behavior, their moral self-image decreases, urging them to subsequently engage in moral behavior (moral cleansing). In this dissertation, we applied these ideas to the domain of discrimination and hiring discrimination in particular. This is particularly novel because current explanations of discrimination mainly focus on stereotypes and preferences of people, but neglect contextual aspects such as the behavioral history of people. First, we assessed moral balancing effects at the individual level. We expected that a previous choice for a candidate with an Arab name in a first selection procedure would increase the chance that a candidate with a Dutch/Belgian name will be selected in the second selection procedure (moral licensing) and vice versa (moral cleansing). Furthermore, we built on
construal level theory and expected that a small spatial distance to the candidate in the second selection procedure (employing for the own team) would generally increase the likelihood that a candidate with a Dutch/Belgian name will be selected and facilitate moral licensing. A large spatial distance (employing for the other team) should lead to the opposite effect and facilitate moral cleansing. In one experimental study, we found the expected moral licensing and cleansing pattern. Moreover, a large distance increased the chances that the candidate with the Arab name was employed and vice versa. Moral cleansing and moral licensing were, however, not dependent on spatial distance. Second, we aimed at lifting the idea of moral licensing to the policy level. More specifically, we investigated whether working for an organization that highlights the successful implementation of a diversity policy can lead to hiring discrimination. We argued that this would particularly be the case when discrimination is ambiguous. That is, when the context allows justification of discriminatory hiring preferences. Moreover, we investigated whether moral self-image variations are a likely explanatory mechanism for this effect and whether the mere presence versus the perceived successfulness of diversity policies is likely to promote moral licensing effects. Results of three studies showed that successful diversity policies increased the moral self-image of employees, which in turn increased discrimination in ambiguous contexts. Third, we took an observer`s perspective on moral licensing effects. We argued that observers evaluating a woman`s gender discrimination claim against an organization would perceive this claim less valid after first reading the organization’s diversity (as opposed to mission) statement. Furthermore, we proposed that enhanced perceptions of organizational morality might explain this effect. In addition, we built on social identity theory to predict that female observers should be less influenced by exposure to particular organizational statements. More specifically, women compared to men would generally perceive the organization accused of discrimination as less moral and the discrimination claim as more valid. Two experimental studies demonstrated that reading a diversity statement subsequently decreased the perceived validity of the woman`s gender discrimination claim which was mediated by perceived morality of the organization. This effect did not depend on observer gender. Yet, female
observers generally perceived the organization as less moral and perceived the claim as more valid.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • KU Leuven
  • Proost, K, Supervisor
  • Brebels, Lieven, Co-supervisor, External person
Award date20 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


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