Black and Asian students who find ways to erase evidence of their race from their résumés are more likely to find jobs, according to a new study reported by Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, and a lesser-known report authored by the entirety of black America entitled, “We’ve been saying this shit for years!”
Katherine DeCelles, a professor at Harvard Business School, along with colleagues from the University of Toronto and Stanford University, recently studied this phenomenon in “Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market” (pdf). “Discrimination still exists in the workplace,” said DeCelles. “Some applicants were willing to lose what could be seen as valuable pieces of human capital because they were more worried about giving away their race.”
“Whitening” is an all-encompassing term for when prospective employees scrub their résumés of anything that might indicate their race. Applicants with cultural names will sometimes use their initials. Community or professional work with African-American fraternities, sororities or other organizations are deleted. One student omitted a prestigious scholarship he was awarded because he feared it might reveal his race.
Although the practice sounds demeaning and reductive in the year 2017, apparently it works. In one study, researchers sent out whitened résumés and nonwhitened résumés to 1,600 employers. Twenty-five percent of black applicants received callbacks when their résumés were whitened, compared with 10 percent of the job seekers who left their ethnic details on the same résumés.
The results were the same for employers who advertised themselves as “equal opportunity employers” or said that “minorities are strongly encouraged to apply.” From the study:
We next examined the subsample of job postings that contained explicit pro-diversity language. ... Despite the diversity rhetoric, the main patterns in this subsample were similar to those observed across all job ads. As in the full sample, there was a particularly prominent callback gap between unwhitened résumés and those for which both the first name and the experience section were whitened.
While the study’s findings were shocking to some, a completely fictional black dude we found waiting to get a fictional haircut at a fictional barbershop said, “Man, you mean to tell me white folks from Stanford and Harvard spent time and money to find this shit out? I could’ve told them corporate America was racist, and I went to community college!”
For the first quarter of 2017, the black unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, while the unemployment rate for whites dropped to 4.3 percent.