April 10, 2024
2:00 p.m. ET
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McKenzie Cory Preston, University of Pennsylvania
Subra Tangirala, University of Maryland
Leigh Tost, University of Southern California
Moral Language as a Double-Edged Sword for Motivating Advantaged Group Leaders to Support Social Issues
Despite leaders from advantaged groups’ (e.g., White and male) tendency to turn a blind eye to social issues, employees commonly raise such issues to motivate these leaders to create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations. In this paper, I examine how employees’ use of moral frames to sell social issues can be a double-edge sword for motivating leaders from advantaged groups to support social equity initiatives. On the one hand, I posit that when leaders from advantaged groups are exposed to moral framing, they recognize that they could appropriately act on a given social equity issue given that it is conceived as a universal issue of morality. As a result, moral framing heightens their sense of psychological standing, and thus indirectly increases their support for the issue. On the other hand, I contend that when leaders from advantaged groups are exposed to moral framing, they become sensitive to the normative moral pressure that they should act on a given social issue, because it runs counter to their preference to maintain the status quo and existing power structures. As a result, moral framing also triggers psychological reactance for leaders from advantaged groups, and thus indirectly reduces their support for the social issue. Finally, I posit that employees can strengthen the relationship between moral frames and psychological standing, while weakening the relationship between moral frames and psychological reactance, when they specify that leaders from advantaged groups have a choice regarding which social equity initiatives to champion. I test these predictions across four studies (two recall studies, a field experiment, and a pre-registered online experiment) that cover racial and gender equity issues.
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