The Color Of Ethics


In the corporate world, some issues may truly be black or white.

A recent study in the Business and Professional Ethics Journal suggests that black managers consider adhering to corporate ethics more important than maintaining legal standards, while white managers feel the opposite. Susan Key, Ph.D., study author and a University of Alabama at Birmingham business professor, describes the distinction between "legal" and "ethical" as "the difference between 'Don't shoot your wife' and 'Be nice to your wife.'"

This disparity may result from different perceptions of the legal system. While whites tend to trust in a fair legal system, blacks seem more likely to expect it to treat them unfairly and thus seek to avoid it. And to accomplish this, Key says, they may go beyond the call of duty.

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"We call it 'overcompensation behavior,'" she explains. Blacks seem to take extra precautionary measures to avoid being persecuted, a behavior that can transfer to the office and cause black managers to place a higher premium on ethics.

This strategy is actually quite logical, Key says. "If you want to hit the middle of the target, aim for the bull's-eye."

PHOTO (COLOR): Business and Professional Ethics Journal

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