New findings indicate that white hiring managers should demonstrate an ethical leadership style during interviews with Black job candidates.

As many companies aim to build diverse workforces, candidates from historically marginalized communities continue to report unfair recruitment practices and limited opportunities. Building an equitable organization starts during the hiring process, with potential supervisors playing a major role in making applicants feel comfortable.

The researchers studied the effects of two moral leadership styles—ethical and authentic—on candidates. Authentic leadership follows an internal compass, drawing on personal experiences and values. Ethical leadership complies with community norms: Ethical leaders provide candidates with an outline of group values and accepted behaviors, emphasize universal ethical principles, and establish a clear reward and punishment system. When supervisors demonstrate their leadership styles during the hiring process, they offer candidates an idea of how a future employee will be treated in daily interactions.

The study, forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, shows that when a white manager is interviewing a Black candidate, ethical leadership is more helpful in reducing threat and increasing willingness to apply for a job.

“Our data aligned with the idea that, if I’m a Black person and my would-be manager is white and showing authentic leadership, it’s going to be hard for me to predict what that’s going to mean,” says Andrew Hafenbrack, coauthor and associate professor of management and organization in the University of Washington Foster School of Business. “And if I do predict it, racism is so common that I might predict something that wouldn’t help me.

“It’s better in this case if my would-be manager is using an ethical style, therefore following community norms, so I can learn those norms. In other words: If there are rules to the game, and they’re going to follow them, then I can figure out the rules and we can work together well.”

Authentic leadership, which emphasizes individual experiences and beliefs, makes applicants feel more comfortable when the supervisor is from the same racial group. In this case, applicants are likely to identify with someone from a similar background. Since candidates in this situation are typically no longer concerned about unfair treatment, they are more likely to view authentic leadership as an opportunity to develop their own individuality in the workplace.

Read the full article about authentic and ethical leadership at Futurity.