Learning & Development

Are You Unknowingly Discriminating When You Read Résumés?

A recent study published by the Administrative Science Quarterly has found a trend indicating implicit bias when hiring professionals look at résumés. Today’s Advisor explores how some applicants are discriminated against when their résumés indicate their minority status.

Accidental bias can be a tricky problem to solve. Recruiters with implicit biases are rarely aware that they are selecting certain candidates over others based on those biases. Such biases are a legal minefield accompanied by a false sense of security: the lack of awareness that there is such a bias. Additionally, turning away applicants because of implicit bias can result in the loss of a potentially excellent worker.
A look at the report by Administrative Science Quarterly, entitled Whitened Resumes: Race and Self-Preservation in the Labor Market, helps us unpack the specifics of this issue. The study makes heavy use of the idea of “whitening” which it defines as the process whereby minorities remove or replace any indication of their minority status in their résumés.
The study had two phases. Phase one involved in-depth interviews of 29 African American and 30 Asian American university students. These students were all actively seeking employment or internships. The interview phase sought to learn whether minority applicants modified their résumés to remove evidence of their minority status. The second phase involved creating a series of résumés based on real minority résumés, and systematically removing or altering indicators of minority like names and minority-based work histories.
The first phase found that of the 59 applicants, 36 engaged in résumé modification (69% of those interviewed). The participants were approximately evenly African American or Asian American. Additionally, approximately two thirds of applicants said they knew people who altered their résumés. Consequently, nearly every applicant either participated in whitening their résumés or knew about the practice.
The second phase involved 4 types of résumés which were then submitted to various organizations that were hiring. Some contained no alteration at all—these were just competitive résumés with minority names and experiences. The second kind altered the first name to make it less minority sounding (e.g., Lakisha to Emily), the third altered the experience of the candidate to remove references to minority status, and the fourth altered both the first name and the experience of the candidate. Each résumé type was further subdivided by African American and Asian American minorities. Finally, 200 of African American résumés of each type and 200 Asian American résumés of each type were sent to real companies.
The following two charts represent callbacks from any of the companies that the résumés were submitted to, broken down by African American and Asian American applicants. The red dashed line represents a trend line.
The data clearly show in both the case of African Americans and Asian American résumés that the more “whitened” the résumés were, the more callbacks that were received.
Pro-Diversity Companies
Another layer of the study involved sending résumés to equally to everyday companies as well as companies that make a point of using pro-diversity language in their job ads and recruiting campaigns. The following two graphs represent callbacks by pro-diversity companies broken out by African American and Asian American applicants. The red dashed line represents a trend line.
Once again, the more that résumés were altered to remove minority-appearing references, the more callbacks that were received—despite the fact that the companies making the callbacks used pro-diversity language in their job ads and recruiting campaigns.
The following chart looks at all callbacks made combining African American and Asian American applicants by all companies (blue) and by pro-diversity companies (purple).
The data from this study tell us that all companies, even those who use pro-diversity language in their recruiting campaigns, have an implicit bias against minorities. As minority indicators are removed from résumés, callbacks increase.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at some of the implications of this study.

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