The Color Of Ethics

Focuses on a study which suggests that black managers consider adhering to corporate ethics more important than maintaining legal standards, while white managers feel the opposite. Distinction between legal and ethical.

By Jennifer Richler, published on September 1, 2000 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

RACE

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.

"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