Summary

This three-part study looks at racial discrimination in the hiring process. The researchers explore how job applicants alter or remove information that may indicate minority racial identity when applying to employment positions to protect themselves against discrimination. A laboratory experiment suggests that applicants may be less likely to engage in this behavior if employers present themselves as valuing diversity or equity by including an anti-discrimination or pro-diversity statement in the job posting. An audit study shows that employers, regardless of the presence of pro-diversity or anti-discrimination statements in their job postings, demonstrate significant bias against black and Asian applicants. The study finds that organizations that seek to challenge inequality by creating and using value statements may inadvertently be disadvantaging racial minority applicants.  Job applicants, seeking to avoid discrimination, are less likely to whiten their résumés for employers they perceive as valuing diversity, but diversity statements and policies appear to have no effect on organizational bias against racial minorities in the hiring process.

Research

Prior research provides evidence that organizations offer fewer callbacks to applicants with racial cues in their résumés, such as distinctively African American or Asian names or résumés with racially distinct experiences (such as cultural or racial clubs or associations).

Organizations offer fewer callbacks to applicants with racial cues in their résumés.

Using interviews, a laboratory experiment, and an audit study, this research initiative seeks to understand how job seekers adapt to discrimination, what changes they make to their résumés and why, and how the techniques used by job seekers impact the responses of prospective employers.

To begin the study, a series of interviews were conducted with black and Asian university students. Students disclosed employing a variety of résumé-whitening techniques and their reasons for employing these techniques when applying to positions. Participants disclosed altering their names, omitting experiences, or changing the description of experiences in an attempt to conceal racial identity and avoid discrimination. Participants’ motivations for using these techniques were to help them “get a foot in the door” and/or to signal assimilation to the majority culture.

A laboratory experiment provided potential job applicants with a series of job postings and asked them to change their résumés in response to the postings. Participants were unaware that résumé whitening was the focus of the study. The experiment included 119 undergraduate business students (41 men, 78 women, 87 East Asian, 18 South Asian, and 14 black participants). In the treatment condition, students received a job posting that included a diversity statement, and an image that presented the employer as an organization that valued diversity.  The control group received a generic job posting.  The resulting job applications were coded for the presence or absence of racial minority indicators by a research assistant who was blind to the experimental conditions.

Résumé whitening was considered to be present when a racial minority cue was present in the original résumé but was not present in the revised résumé. This experiment confirmed that job applicants are highly sensitive to cues of pro-diversity from employers (such as value statements) and will utilize the whitening techniques described above if a job description lacks these cues. The degree of résumé whitening was 1.5 to 2 times lower when the employer presented as an organization that values diversity.

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