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Leon Kaye headshot

On Diversity Hiring, Companies Have a Horse-Cart Problem

By Leon Kaye
Diversity Hiring

More than a year after millions of Americans joined widespread protests calling for true racial justice, more companies keep insisting they will do what they can over the next few years to improve their diversity hiring.

Much of the conversation is about ensuring that more people of color are hired within the managerial and executive ranks. But there’s a problem: A recent study suggests that many companies are still intentionally ignoring Black applicants for entry-level jobs.

It’s not a great look, as evidence suggests that management is still overwhelmingly white and male at several of the most widely recognized retail brands in the U.S. That's true in other sectors, too.

If managers are unwilling to give an equal shot to anyone young and lacking experience, what does that say about the commitment to diversity hiring within the more senior ranks of a company?

Researchers at the University of California and the University of Chicago took it upon themselves to submit more than 83,000 fictitious applications, each of them having random characteristics, to 108 of the largest employers across the U.S.

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Here’s what they found: Based on a variety of factors, such as the length of time it took a company to call an applicant, the type of job for which applicants applied and the type of company, a significant gap in company responses to those job applications existed between names perceived to be white or Black.

Overall, the researchers concluded that at least 7 percent of the employers in this experiment discriminated against applicants with presumedly Black names. But within a core group of 23 companies, they found at least 20 percent of those employers ruled out anyone assumed to be Black based on their names. Such activity occurred in 25 out of the 125 U.S. counties the study included within this experiment, implying the pattern is widespread.

As for jobs requiring any type of social or customer interaction (i.e., jobs at call centers or requiring “customer-facing” skills), the racial gap between Black and white applicants who were contacted was wider. One sliver of positive news: Companies that are also federal contractors tended to have less of a discrepancy, suggesting that federal regulations work somewhat as a stick to ensure everyone gets a fair shot.

The researchers, who relied on complicated quantitative analysis to come to these conclusions, made it clear their findings are not outright proof that companies are actively discriminating. Nevertheless, the optics around diversity hiring, or the lack thereof, are hard to ignore. The researchers, who do not name any of the companies involved with these phantom job applications, instead provided this ominous note: “Rather, our impression is that the identities of the 23 firms conclusively determined to be discriminating against Black names would come as a surprise both to the companies involved and to the public at large.”

Image credit: Hello Lightbulb/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye