Dialectical Thinking and Fairness-Based Perspectives of Affirmative Action

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Abstract

Affirmative action (AA) policies are among the most effective means for enhancing diversity and equality in the workplace, yet are also often viewed with scorn by the wider public. Fairness-based explanations for this scorn suggest AA policies provide preferential treatment to minorities, violating procedural fairness principles of consistent treatment. In other words, to promote equality in the workplace, effective AA policies promote inequality when selecting employees, and the broader public perceives this to be procedurally unfair. Given this inconsistency underlies negative reactions to AA policies, we argue that better preparing individuals to deal with inconsistencies can mitigate negative reactions to AA policies. Integrating theories from the fairness and cognitive styles literature, we demonstrate across 4 studies how dialectical thinking—a cognitive style associated with accepting inconsistencies in one’s environment—increases support for AA policies via procedural fairness perceptions. Specifically, we found support for our propositions across a variety of AA policy types (i.e., strong and weak preference policies) and when conceptualizing dialectical thinking either as an individual difference or as a state that can be primed—including being primed by the framing of the AA policy itself. We discuss theoretical contributions and insights for policy-making at government and organizational levels.

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