How leadership style can impact inclusive hiring

According to a McKinsey report published in December 2023 the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has become even stronger. However, many organizations still struggle to reach diversity goals. Members of minority groups continue to report they are not treated fairly during recruitment and that their ethnic background may limit opportunities. These individuals can face a sense of discomfort resulting from the likelihood of being evaluated based on a negative stereotype (or fear of potential discrimination) and ultimately may decide to withdraw from the recruitment process.



Temps de lecture

3 min


A new *study, by researchers based in France, the US and Brazil, has assessed how the leadership style of (potential) supervisors during the interview procedure can impact the feelings of applicants from minority groups and their likelihood to withdraw upon feeling such a stereotype threat.

The team carried out a series of experiments with organizations in Brazil – including a real-world recruitment process with black residents from a favela and physiological measures of stress – to study two different leadership styles: ethical and authentic.

The former refers to a style that is directed by respect for ethical and societal norms and where individuals seek to balance stakeholders’ interests. While individuals with an authentic style can also be ethical, they rely on their inner compass to make their decisions and guide their working relations.

Professor Jorge JACOB from IÉSEG, one of the co-authors of the research, explains that the study showed that an ethical leadership style was actually more helpful in reducing stereotype threat when the candidate was not from the same racial group. When a white supervisor was interviewing a black candidate, for example, an ethical leadership style based on community norms helped reduce negative perceptions and in turn promoted willingness to apply for the job.

However, the study also suggests that authentic leadership can be extremely valuable in recruitment situations where the candidate belongs to the same racial or social group.

“An authentic leader may find it easier to create a more natural connection with someone who shares similar norms or values. This authenticity can help to portray the organization as a (psychologically) safe rather than threatening environment,” Professor JACOB notes.

Potential applications for companies and organizations

One of the key messages from the study, therefore, is that leaders may want to adjust their behavior toward candidates that have to deal with social stigma if they want to diminish the perceived threat experienced by these individuals and enable their successful inclusion in the organization.

If the manager and the candidate belong to different social groups, the manager can demonstrate moral behavior and enforce ethical norms to ensure an ‘identity-safe’ environment and reduce the likelihood of possible unfair treatment or evaluation due to one’s racial group.

However, if the manager and the candidate are members of the same social group, the manager should seek to demonstrate their authentic self in order to encourage relationship building and thus diminish any potential stereotype threat.

The authors suggest that these findings also have applications for leadership development or training programs, especially those that rely on an authentic leadership framework and encourage authentic expression, regardless of the situation.

Finally, the authors suggest this work also has implications for the use of automated recruitment tools in recruitment. Many companies have turned to such solutions to optimize their selection process and also to avoid accusations of bias. However, their results suggest that companies that wish to attract a more diverse talent pool could actually benefit from including more interactions with managers in their recruitment strategy and tailoring these exchanges to the social categories of future managers and candidates.

* “Following community norms or an internal compass? The role of prospective leaders’ social category membership in the differential effects of authentic and ethical leadership on stereotype threat” is available online in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The authors are Urszula LAGOWSKA, corresponding author from Neoma Business School, Filipe SOBRAL and Rafael GOLDSZMIDT of the Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration, Andrew HAFENBRACK from the UW Foster School of Business and Jorge JACOB from IÉSEG School of Management.

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CSR, Sustainability & DiversityManagement & Society


IÉSEG Insights

IÉSEG Insights


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