You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Harvard Study Says Minority Job Candidates Are 'Whitening' Their Resumes When Looking for Jobs

Inc. logo Inc. 4/11/2019 Marcel Schwantes
a close up of text on a white background: Cropped Hand Holding Resume Over White Background © Getty Images Cropped Hand Holding Resume Over White Background

Ever changed your name on a resume to get more job interviews?

Race discrimination remains an issue in the workplace and it appears to be getting worse, according to a joint study conducted by Stanford University, Harvard Business School, and the University of Toronto.

Before I highlight the research's most glaring findings, it's important to note that the most recent data from this particular study below comes from 2017. One alarming fact right off the bat: When looking for employment, only 11.5 percent of job applicants of Asian descent receive callbacks when their resumes included references to ethnicity or race, like a foreign-looking name.

African-Americans didn't fare much better. When applying for jobs, only 10 percent got calls when they left details pertaining to their ethnic identity intact.

So what's a job candidate to do when they don't receive calls from potential employers to showcase their talents in an interview?

They "whiten" their resume.

Whiten your resume, get the interview.

In essence, when applicants of ethnic background remove references to their race in resumes and job applications, the research revealed, it boosts their chances of being considered for interviews.

As reported in Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge, the strategy is paying off. Twenty-five percent of black candidates received callbacks from their whitened resumes, while among Asians, 21 percent got calls if they used whitened resumes, even though the qualifications listed were identical.

The irony of it all? The study showed that such discriminatory practices are just as prevalent for businesses that claim to value diversity as those that don't.

"This is a major point of our research--that you are at an even greater risk for discrimination when applying with a pro-diversity employer because you're being more transparent," says Katherine A. DeCelles, one of the study's co-authors. She adds, "Those companies have the same rate of discrimination, which makes you more vulnerable when you expose yourself to those companies."

Clearly, the research asserts, a bias against minorities runs rampant through the resume screening process at companies throughout the United States,

But still, in a tight labor market where college grads, in particular, attempt to break into the corporate arena, desperate times call for creative methods.

The study found that more than a third (36 percent) of Asian and African-American students between the ages of 18 and 25 who were seeking jobs and internships whiten their resumes, including changing foreign-sounding names to something American-sounding. They also "Americanized" their interests, the study found, "by adding outdoorsy activities like hiking, snowboarding, and kayaking that are common in white western culture."

One Asian student changed her "very Chinese-sounding" name to her American nickname in order to appear more mainstream and lessen any impression of a language barrier. She saw immediate results: "Before I changed it, I didn't really get any interviews, but after that I got interviews," she said.

African Americans are found to drop the word "black" from professional associations, scholarships, or memberships in fear that it may reveal their racial identity.

"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," DeCelles says.

Not all minority candidates have caved in to the pressure to conform to "bleaching" their resumes. Some purposely leave in racial references to sniff out potential employers deemed guilty of discriminatory practices.

"If blackness put a shadow over all (my resume), then it probably isn't the job I want to be in," said one black student. "I wouldn't consider whitening my resume because if they don't accept my racial identity, I don't see how I would fit in that job, stated another.

What needs to change on the employer side

DeCelles said employers must face the reality that "bias is hardwired into the hiring system and that prejudice is clouding the screening of qualified applicants."

To counter discriminatory hiring practices, one recommended solution starts with carefully inspecting your resume screening processes and employ a "blind recruitment" method, where "information about race, age, gender, or social class are removed from resumes before hiring managers see them."

DeCelles delivers the bottom line for all employers: "Once you receive applications, you need to make sure they are evaluated fairly."

AdChoices

More from Inc.

AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon