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‘Re­sumé Whiten­ing’ is real amongst mi­nor­ity job can­di­dates

For quite a while, busi­ness-school pro­fes­sors and HR pro­fes­sion­als have ped­dled the mer­its of di­ver­sity in the work­place, en­cour­ag­ing com­pa­nies and their ex­ec­u­tives to take bold steps. The typ­i­cal rea­son­ing reach from moral con­tentions—that it’s es­sen­tially the right thing to do—to more prac­ti­cal mo­ti­va­tions, for ex­am­ple, cov­er­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions’ blind spots by hav­ing a more di­verse team of prob­lem solvers, im­prov­ing pri­mary busi­ness con­cerns sub­se­quently.

Re­searchers from U.C. Santa Clause Bar­bara re­cently wrote in Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view that in spite of the fact the busi­ness spends mil­lions on di­ver­sity pro­grams and poli­cies, they rarely bring de­sired re­sults. As a mat­ter of fact, their data is gen­er­ally flawed – it is made to make white work­ers feel that their em­ployee is treat­ing mi­nori­ties fairly – whether that is true or not. A grow­ing num­ber of di­ver­sity ini­tia­tives are now look­ing into the flawed sys­tem, but it is all talk.

An­other study done by re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Toronto and Stan­ford Univer­sity brings into pic­ture an­other di­men­sion to this dilemma. The find­ings pro­pose that the ex­pressed as­pi­ra­tions of com­pa­nies to be­come more di­verse haven’t changed how they take up hir­ing, and that mi­nor­ity can­di­dates re­spond­ing to job open­ings that wel­come di­verse back­grounds are just as limited as be­fore.

The re­searchers ex­plored into the grow­ing prac­tice of ‘whiten­ing’ re­sumes, in which mi­nor­ity job seek­ers re­move lan­guage that may re­veal their race, for dread that would it lead to con­scious or un­con­scious seg­re­ga­tion— for ex­am­ple, mod­i­fy­ing a for­eign sound­ing first name to some­thing that sounds “more Amer­i­can.” The mo­ti­va­tion for do­ing this is pes­simisti­cally prag­matic: The job mar­ket is un­fair to mi­nori­ties, so why do some­thing about it to at least get an in­ter­view.

In the first place, the re­searchers con­ducted de­tailed in­ter­view with 60 black and Asian stu­dents who were look­ing for em­ploy­ments and tem­po­rary po­si­tions. They found that 36 per­cent of their in­ter­vie­wees

re­ported whiten­ing their re­sumes, and 66% of the re­spon­dents knew about com­pan­ions or fam­ily who had done as such be­fore. Stu­dents who were ap­ply­ing for jobs were let­ting re­searchers know this is some­thing that they were do­ing, and some­thing their com­pan­ions were do­ing, and some­thing they had been ad­vised to do when they went to ca­reer coun­selors.

The re­searchers also found other com­mon prac­tices for whiten­ing re­sumes. For ex­am­ple, a few stu­dents would re­move or change ex­pe­ri­ences so busi­nesses couldn’t dis­tin­guish their race. Stu­dents re­ported ton­ing down racial iden­ti­fiers, for ex­am­ple, re­mov­ing part of black or Asian af­fil­i­a­tions. Ad­di­tion­ally, job seek­ers would de­lib­er­ately in­clude ex­pe­ri­ences they con­sid­ered “white” — out­doorsy stuff, for ex­am­ple, climb­ing, kayak­ing. Those were the sorts of things that job seek­ers be­lieved were at­tached to more stan­dard white Amer­i­can cul­ture.

The study then mea­sured how a group of mi­nor­ity stu­dents re­sponded to di­ver­sity lan­guage, and noted that mi­nor­ity job seek­ers both pick up and re­spond to these prompts: The par­tic­i­pants were 1.5 times less in­clined to whiten re­sumes for man­agers who sig­nal that they think about di­ver­sity.

The re­searchers also tested how the job mar­ket re­sponded to whiten­ing, and whether com­pa­nies that un­der­lined the sig­nif­i­cance of di­ver­sity in their job post­ings would ac­tu­ally screen whitened re­sumes. They made two set of re­sumes, one whitened and the other not, and ran­domly sent them in re­sponse of 1,600 job post­ings in 16 U.S. cities. They found that whitened re­sumes were twice as prone to get call­backs— it held true even for com­pa­nies that put em­pha­sis on di­ver­sity.

Per­haps, the most trou­bling part is that even pro-di­ver­sity em­ploy­ers are send­ing mixed-sig­nals. On one side, they’re keen on hir­ing mi­nori­ties, and on the other, they’re only pick­ing whitened re­sumes. This prac­tices aren’t ex­actly tied to dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices, but speaks vol­umes about what changes are ex­pected un­der­way. It’s best if com­pa­nies use blind re­cruit­ment, where in­for­ma­tion that might re­veal a can­di­date’s race and gen­der are re­moved be­fore the screen­ing process, in or­der to make things eas­ier for man­agers to hire without dis­crim­i­nat­ing.

Em­ploy­ers should be re­al­is­tic about peo­ple and how they’re bad at mak­ing hir­ing de­ci­sions when they have a great deal of data that we need to process so rapidly. Of­ten, they sim­ply fall back on the bi­ases, such as stereo­typ­ing and prej­u­dices. These prac­tices come into play, es­pe­cially when they’re un­der time pres­sure and have a lot of in­for­ma­tion to process, i.e. when a re­cruiter or the hir­ing man­ager is screen­ing through a pile of CVS.

The re­sults of this study shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing. Whiten­ing may help job seek­ers get an in­ter­view, but it is also in­dica­tive of the kind of chal­lenges that will re­main present for peo­ple of col­ors once hired in such places.

If job seek­ers are com­pelled to whiten their re­sumes, im­age what might hap­pen when they’re ac­tu­ally em­ployed there. There are sev­eral rea­sons why job seek­ers are now against whiten­ing their re­sumes. A lot of them be­lieve that their ex­pe­ri­ences, whether white or not, are a part of their iden­ti­ties, and thus their CV’S strength, and should be so even in to the em­ployer that claims to be pro-di­ver­sity. If em­ploy­ers are un­able to ac­cept a po­ten­tial em­ployee’s racial iden­tity, there’s no rea­son to see why they would fit into that job.

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