Resumes and Racial Bias: Why Employers Need a Better Recruiting Process

Conor Roach —  September 14, 2016 — Leave a comment

In recent months, NewHire has emphasized various reasons why we believe employers need to reconsider how the resume fits into their recruiting process. As the primary tool of assessing candidates, the resume is an antiquated, time consuming, and overall inaccurate way of identifying which candidates will be a fit for a position. However, beyond resumes being ineffective as a screening tool, there are more nefarious results of employers hiring on resumes alone: racial discrimination.

The Research

In 2002, University of Chicago Booth School of Business researchers Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainatghan published an article titled “Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination”. As that title implies, the research’s purpose was to investigate the impact of candidate names and implied race influenced the likelihood of receiving a callback from employers after submitting a resume. Focusing on the Chicago and Boston markets, resumes were randomly assigned a name that implied the candidate’s race as either white (i.e. Emily, Brendan) or black (i.e. Lakisha, Jamal). They also measured the impact of improvements to resume credentials increased the response rate. All combined, they sent out over 5000 resumes to a variety of industries and positions.

The results were staggering. Resumes with names typically associated with white candidates elicited approximately 50% more callbacks than those with perceived black candidate names. Furthermore, adding additional, higher credentials to resumes (more experience, more education) resulted in a 30% jump in calls to “white” resumes. Those same improvements to “black” resumes resulted in little to no improvement in the rate of being contacted by employers.

There is little reason to think things have changed since the year the study took place. In 2014, a man named José Zamora received national news attention when, in an effort to improve his job search results, he started to drop the “s” in his name to “Joe Zamora”. With that one letter change, results improved. Watch the video below to hear José’s story:

Organizations like Career Pathways recognize the problem and have worked to improve career opportunities for disadvantaged candidates. A PSA launched in 2014 titled “Grads of Life”, while not explicitly focused on assisting candidates of color, strongly urges employers to consider candidates from diverse backgrounds. The campaign remains active and, I can say from personal experience, has had subway and bus ads spring up around Chicago. I took the photo below waiting for the train earlier this year:

Resumes and racial bias

What can employers do to prevent discrimination?

Intentional or not, hiring managers are susceptible to displaying racial discrimination in the hiring process. One sure fire way of preventing such discrimination is to utilize a screening process and tool that allows hiring managers to get candidates to answer the questions that matter most to doing the job and then having the ability to search on those answers to identify top talent. Lucky for you, that’s what NewHire does! Not only will our Applicant Tracking System (ATS) cut down on the amount of time you spend reading resumes, it will also ensure that candidates are being judged on their competencies and experiences and not their age, sex, or race.

Conor Roach

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Conor is a Staffing Coordinator here at NewHire. He is a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison (go Badgers!) and in his free time he enjoys watching films, binging television series, and attending music concerts around the city.

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