Moral credentialling (Monin & Miller, 2001) is a phenomenon where individuals are more likely to be discriminatory if they have previously proved to their own satisfaction that they are not prejudiced. For example, giving people the chance to endorse the election of Barack Obama as US President led to their subsequently describing a job as less suitable for Black people (Effron, Cameron, & Monin, 2009). People are motivated to self-enhance and show themselves that they are fair and just, so non-discriminatory behaviour licenses subsequent discrimination and makes it psychologically easier (Monin & Miller, 2001). This is supported by experimental evidence, where people were more likely to discriminate against women or Black people after they had already hired a well-qualified Black person (Monin & Miller, 2001). Quotas are likely to cause moral credentialling because businesses will feel that their “token” female employees prove that they are not discriminatory, and therefore in subsequent hiring decisions may feel licensed to hire men over women. Unfortunately, this effect can also occur vicariously – when members are exposed to the prior moral and egalitarian behaviour of the in-group, they are more likely to subsequently show prejudice (Kouchaki, 2011). Quotas may therefore increase discrimination and handicap moves to address wider gender imbalances in the organisation. However, other studies argue that there is still a positive long-term benefit to having disadvantaged group members in high-status positions. For instance, long-term exposure to Obama created positive exemplars and decreased implicit racial bias (Plant et al., 2009). On this basis, even “token” appointments from the disadvantaged group into high-status positions may help that group’s position in the longer term.
Effron, D. A., Cameron, J. S., & Monin, B. (2009). Endorsing Obama licenses favoring whites. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 590–593. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.02.001.
Kouchaki, M. (2011). Vicarious moral licensing: The influence of others’ past moral actions on moral behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(4), 702–715. doi: 10.1037/a0024552.
Monin, B., & Miller, D. T. (2001). Moral credentials and the expression of prejudice. Journal of personality and social psychology, 81(1), 33–43. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.8I.I.33.
Plant, E. A., Devine, P. G., Cox, W. T., Columb, C., Miller, S. L., Goplen, J., & Peruche, B. M. (2009). The Obama effect: Decreasing implicit prejudice and stereotyping. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(4), 961–964. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.04.018.