By Priscilla Wiredu
Posted on December 17, 2021
TW: This article contains examples of racist humour.
We have all heard the offensive jokes when it comes to Black or “ghetto” names:
“The name is La-sha and the dash ain’t silent.”
“She named all eight of her kids Tyrone; how does she know which one to call? By their last name.”
“People from the ghetto always naming their kids after things they can’t afford; Mercedes, Chardonnay, Crystal.”
The rhetoric regarding stereotypically Black names has been embedded in all aspects of Black peoples’ lives. In this article, we will discuss how their names affect their employability.
A study by the Harvard Business School discusses the issue of resume whitening. Resume whitening is defined as the practice where non-white candidates, usually Black, alter personal information on their resume that indicates their ethnicity. This process usually proves desired results, as a study from Sage Journals states that those who did whiten their resume were more than twice as likely to receive a callback than from those who did not.
We will discuss the topics surrounding resume whitening; social experiments, explanations for doing so and resources to help stop this trend.
A September 2016 article about the two-year study in Administrative Science Quarterly called Whitened Resumes: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market outlines the results of experiments regarding minorities applying for jobs. In one study, researchers created resumes for Black and Asian applicants and sent them to 1600 entry-level jobs posted on various job search websites. Some resumes accurately depicted information on the applicants’ race or ethnicity, while others were given more Westernized personal information. Emails and phone numbers were also created and put on these resumes.
Results showed that whitened resumes fared much better in regards to receiving callbacks, despite the ethnic resumes having the same qualifications and experience. Twenty-five per cent of Black candidates received callbacks from their whitened resumes while only 10 per cent got calls when they used their ethnic names.
When whitening resumes, minority groups take different approaches to seeing if they qualify for the job or if the business is discriminatory. Asian applicants often change their foreign-sounding names to sound more Americanized, i.e. instead of “Lei”, they write “Luke.” They also outline more Westernized activities, like hiking, snowboarding and other common activities in white Western culture.
Black applicants on the other hand tend to tone down mentions of their race or any affiliations they may have, such as leaving out the term “Black” from professionals clubs or societies they belong to. Others take out achievements they have from Black-centred activities, contests, scholarships, etc. These omissions show how applicants are at risk of losing important, valuable pieces of their identity out of fear of exposing their race.
Some Black students leave out certain information due to concern they might come off as politically radical or attached to racially controversial causes that could turn off an employer.
Racial minority status can be seen as a form of ‘tribal stigma’—a collective of real or imagined attributes associated with a racial group. This propagates discrimination that can reduce a person’s quality of life. This can be altered, however, by how the stigmatized individual manages the information they present about themselves.
The façade of ‘pro-diversity’ employers
When an employer claims to value diversity in its job posting, usually by using the terms “equal opportunity employer” or “minorities are strongly encouraged to apply,” many minority applicants get the false impression that it is safe to reveal their race on their resumes and end up facing rejection.
Another study in the article had minority participants craft resumes that included pro-diversity statements and others to write resumes for jobs that did not mention diversity. Results showed minorities were only half as likely to whiten their resumes when applying for jobs for diversity-friendly businesses. One participant explained that with each resume she sent out, she weighed her options on whether or not she should mention she was part of a Black student organization.
When applicants let their guard down about their race, they indirectly hurt their chances of being considered. “Diversity-friendly” employers are just as discriminatory against ethnic resumes than those who do not mention diversity.
It may not be intentional, but the findings reinforce an assumption many minorities already have: the resume screening game is stacked against them and that they need to hide their race to level the playing field.
Resources: How to stop resume whitening
“Discrimination still exists in the workplace. Organizations now have an opportunity to recognize this issue as a pinch point, so they can do something about it,” says Katherine A. DeCelles, the James M. Collins Visiting Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
Some students outright refused to whiten their resume, and even left racial references on purpose to sniff out employers that might not welcome minorities. They claimed that any job that sees race as a barrier to a good employee is not a job they want to be a part of.
It’s time for employers to acknowledge that bias is hardwired into the hiring system and that prejudice is clouding the screening of qualified applicants.
Business leaders should start by taking a closer look at their resume screening processes. Blind recruitment is one possible solution, where information about race, age, gender or social class are removed from resumes before hiring managers see them.
Companies can also perform regular checks for discrimination in the screening process. For example, they can measure how many minorities applied for a position and compare that with the percentage of applicants who made the first cut.
The Career Education Empowerment Centre for young Black Professionals offers training programs, job postings, volunteer opportunities and many other resources for Black youth to find employment without having to whiten their resume, name or experience. Their website has all the information needed. With more resources such as this one, hopefully resume whitening will soon be a long outdated practice for minority groups.