Diversity, Screening, Assessment, Interviewing

Racism and Recruiting

America has a long and painful history of racism. Lately, the news has served as a reminder of this history, while alerting the nation’s citizens there are still steps to take on the road to equality.

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For all the progress that has been made in the workplace, color-based discrimination has not been eradicated.

In 2016, 3,102 charges alleging color-based discrimination were filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The number does not include charges filed with state or local fair employment practices agencies.

Case in Point

One lawsuit, filed in September 2011 and settled this July, has recently received widespread attention, because of the settlement amount.

Bass Pro Outdoor World, a leading retailer of fishing, camping, and hunting equipment and apparel, based in Springfield, Missouri, agreed to pay $10.5 million to settle a hiring discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by the EEOC.

The lawsuit charged that the company discriminated in hiring at its retail stores, unlawfully retaliated against employees who opposed practices they believed to be unlawful, and failed to adhere to federal record-keeping laws and regulations.

In settling the suit, Bass Pro agreed to improve its recruiting practices of African Americans and Hispanics, strengthen its diversity efforts and its commitment to non-discriminatory hiring, and appoint a director of diversity and inclusion. In addition, the company agreed to further its affirmative outreach efforts to increase diversity in its workforce, update equal employment opportunity (EEO) policies and hiring practices, and provide annual EEO training for management and non-management employees.

Identifying Bias

While this particular outcome is positive, there are thousands of other employers with discriminatory hiring practices.

Sometimes racism is overt and easily identified and addressed; other times, bias is implicit.

Perhaps the best example of implicit bias is the study, conducted in 2003 by university professors Marianne Bertrand, PhD and Sendhil Mullainathan, PhD, which explores assumptions about people based on their names.

The researchers created fictitious resumes, which they used to respond to help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston newspapers. They randomly assigned very White sounding names (such as Emily Walsh or Greg Baker) to half the resumes, and very African American sounding names (such as Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones) to the other half. In total, Bertrand and Mullainathan sent out nearly 5,000 resumes.

Among study findings is that applicants with White names have to send approximately 10 resumes to get one response, whereas applicants with African-American names have to send approximately 15 resumes to get one response, a 50 percent difference. In addition, the study finds that Whites with higher quality resumes receive 30 percent more responses than Whites with lower quality resumes. However, having a higher quality resume has a much smaller effect for African Americans.

These and other study findings are detailed in the paper, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

Addressing the Issue

Applicant tracking systems often allow for hiding resume fields, including candidates’ names. However, employers have to make the decision to use the feature, and few—if any—take this step.

At the same time, talent acquisition and other company leaders should be alert to any tendency toward implicit bias.

The issue is more widespread than you may realize.

Project Implicit, a non-profit organization and international collaboration between university researchers interested in implicit social cognition, features a number of Implicit Association Tests (IATs), including a Race (“Black – White”) IAT.

In 2014, The Washington Post shared IAT Race test results from 1.51 million Americans, on a state-by-state basis in the form of a map. The map shows a clear pattern of implicit bias in certain parts of the country.

People continue to take the online test, and Project Implicit research is ongoing.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.