Racial Discrimination in the Recruitment Process and What the Recruitment Industry is Doing About It

8-9 Minutes

Since George Floyd's horrific murder sent shockwaves around the globe, a harsh light has be...

By Emily Davies

Senior Content Writer

Since George Floyd's horrific murder sent shockwaves around the globe, a harsh light has been cast upon the lack of diversity in, well, pretty much all industries. In reaction, many companies released statements and took actions that focused on anti-racism, side-stepping inclusion in the process. And that's where the challenges begin – inclusion.


The corporate world is obsessed with numbers, yet statistics show that even though Black Americans make up 10% of all college graduates, there are only four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500.


What's more, a study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago shows that a mere 3.2% of executives and senior managers are Black, and 58% of Black employees say they have been subjected to racial prejudice at work.



Why Does The Corporate World Still Lack Racial Parity In 2023? 


It's common knowledge that talent is the driving force behind every business's success. 


When companies don't make an effort to include more diverse candidates, they only promote and reinforce problematic narratives and stereotypical cliches, prolonging the damaging effects of systemic racism within the recruitment process.


Not only is this harmful to society, but it directly impacts the wealth of Black individuals and communities. So why is this still happening today, in 2023?


As we've mentioned previously, many people, including hiring managers, are not fully conscious of their own biases, meaning they much less realise the economic impact those opinions cause.


Even as recent as 2020, Wells Fargo CEO, Charles Scharf, made remarks during a Zoom meeting about the company's troubles in meeting its diversity goals due to a lack of qualified Black applicants. This drew enormous criticism, reflecting a largely accepted way of thinking in the corporate world, which can inflict harm on entire careers – from hiring to promotional opportunities to organisational structures.


But the mythical belief that qualified Black candidates are rare diamonds is not only one held by the Wells Fargo CEO (who's since apologised for his comments). No, multiple organisations across a wide range of sectors have also claimed they've struggled to diversify programs, teams, and advisory councils because Black talent 'isn't there.'


To put it bluntly, blaming the talent pool over the efforts being made is lazy. And organisational diversity being too hard to achieve is a myth that needs to be busted. Because there is plenty of Black talent out there, so either organisations aren't looking hard enough, or they simply don't want to find it.


In fact, as reported by Reuters, Black senior executives across corporate America are tired and frustrated with claims of talent shortages. They believe that despite many companies' stated intentions to expand diversity in their businesses, comments such as Scharf's are a major reason why companies do not have enough racial and ethnic diversity in their leadership roles.



Four Fallacies Perpetuating The 'Hard-to-Find' Narrative


One prominent example of the trope that 'Black talent is hard-to-find' lies in the technology sector. As Darrick Hamilton, Professor of Economics and Urban Policy at the New School pointed out, claims that there's a severe shortage of qualified Black and Hispanic candidates in Silicon Valley don't add up.


That's because, as reported by USA Today, Black and Hispanic computer scientists and engineers graduate at top universities at twice the rate that leading tech companies hire them. Hamilton commented on these findings, "if you look at the empirical evidence, that's just not the case."


So why are businesses still using this excuse as to why they're struggling to diversify their teams? Well, essentially, this narrative is one that is often perpetuated by those who endorse four major fallacies in their hiring practices, which include:


1.       Meritocracy:

Anyone who's been through the hiring process will have heard the term' culture fit'. This organisational language refers to a subjective criterion often associated with likeability and similarity to the employer.


It's no secret that most hiring manager and leadership roles are filled by White men with largely homogenous peer groups. And even research shows that the majority of positions are filled through networking rather than meritocracy, putting those from different backgrounds at an unfair disadvantage.


2.       Objectivity:

The illusion that a single most qualified candidate exists is purely that – an illusion. That's because there is great variation in the way two candidates with different experiences and skills would successfully approach and perform the same role.


The label 'most qualified' is not quantifiable, meaning it's nested in opinion. This level of subjectivity only feeds into false narratives and stereotypes about applicants that are often steeped in bias.


3.       Equal Goal Posts:

Organisations might find it difficult to find qualified Black candidates purely because of the notion that Black applicants need to be more accomplished than their White counterparts to be considered 'qualified.'


This unfair belief is backed by a six-year-long study that found people of colour had to manage their careers more strategically and prove greater competence than their White colleagues to land promotions.


4.       The Bad Apples:

Hiring practices are generally executed at an individual level, which leads to the misconception that racial discrimination happens at the hands of a few 'bad apples' rather than as a systemic practice.


These kinds of biases mean that millions of ethnic minority applicants are unfairly rejected from job roles before even having the benefit of an initial screening or interview. As you can guess, the longer these applicants wait for a less-biased employer to interview and offer them a job results in an even wider gap in their employment history, meaning it becomes even harder to score an interview. This has enormous implications for their wealth and can seriously affect their mental health.



The Result: Black Talent 'Whitening' Their Job Applications


Since Black talent has the odds already stacked against them, minority applicants have begun 'whitening' their job applications, deleting references to their race to boost their shot at landing jobs.


While this seems wildly unfair, research shows that it's paying off. As reported in the paper Whitening Resumes: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market, one study created resumes for Black and Asian applicants and sent them to 1,600 entry-level jobs in 16 metropolitan areas of the US. Some resumes included information that clearly indicated the applicants' ethnicity, while others were scrubbed of any racial clues.


Results of the study found that whitened resumes received more callbacks than those that included ethnic information, even though the qualifications listed were identical. 


For Black candidates, 25% received callbacks from their whitened applications compared to only 10% who left ethnic details intact. Among Asian applicants, 21% were contacted by employers after whitening their resumes, whereas only 11.5% heard back if their applications included racial references.


Another study from the same paper even found that organisations that market themselves as pro-diversity discriminated against minority applicants to the same degree. In this case, researchers asked participants to craft resumes that included pro-diversity statements and others that didn't mention diversity at all.


This study found that when asked, minority applicants were half as likely to whiten their applications when applying for jobs with employers who say they care about diversity. Little did they know, promoting diversity in their applications inadvertently hurt their chances of being considered because even employers who claimed to be pro-diversity discriminated again applicants who included racial references just as much as employers who didn't mention diversity in their job ads at all.


From this, we can only assume that companies are appropriating their social activism into their marketing materials with hollow gestures or there's an apparent disconnect between a company's aims and its hiring practices. This only reinforces the assumption that many minorities already hold: they're already at a disadvantage in the screening process, so to level the playing field, they must hide their race.


What's more, this level of discrimination is happening all across the corporate world, from start-up-sized organisations to some of the largest corporations in America. A National Bureau of Economic Research study saw researchers send 84,000 fictitious job applications for entry-level roles to 108 Fortune 500 companies. What they discovered was that, on average, job applications with distinctively Black names were 10% less likely to get a call back than equivalent applications with comparable job experience, skills, and education with distinctively White names.  


What's worth pointing out here is that this is expected to be even more likely in states where it's illegal to ask about a candidate's criminal record because, ultimately, implicit racial bias comes into play, and employers can make unjust assumptions.


One study, in particular, found that when New York and New Jersey-based employers were barred from asking candidates about their criminal records, callbacks to Black candidates significantly dropped in comparison to White candidates, suggesting employers assumed Black candidates were more likely to have a record.


What's more, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that around the top 20% of the largest US businesses targeted in their study accounted for around half of the total discrimination against Black-sounding applications. That means they hold responsibility for keeping people of colour out of lucrative jobs.


To reiterate that point, Evan Rose, an Assistant Professor in the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study, said, "These are, again, large US employers. You know them and love them; at least shop with them regularly. And unfortunately, it seems that there's widespread patterns of discrimination across their establishments. In fact, it looks like at least 20% of the actual jobs that we applied to at these firms are discriminating on the basis of race."



What's The Recruitment Sector Doing To Bridge The Racial Divide?


While racial discrimination is happening across a whole host of industries, the recruitment sector is actively making changes to follow through on its promises to become more inclusive and diverse.


Back in 2020, Meet came together with seven other staffing companies to address the massive underrepresentation of Black talent within the recruitment industry. As a result, Programme One was founded, helping remove inequalities and barriers Black talent faces within the recruitment sector.


Since its creation, Programme One has helped embed DE&I strategies into workplace environments, accessed underrepresented networks to widen the talent pool within recruitment, and continues to offer mentorship to each and every recruiter that comes through Programme One.


Atta Gyedu, Project Manager at Programme One, says, "My aim is to not only make people in these untapped networks aware of the potential career opportunities recruitment can offer but to also help existing recruiters feel like they belong in the workplace they're in. 


By partnering with the Aleto Foundation, we've (so far) been able to create 11 successful mentor/mentee relationships across all our partnering agencies. They're able to share their backgrounds and experiences with one another, helping boost their sense of belonging and embed more inclusive cultures in the workplace."





There's no denying that bias is hardwired into the hiring process, with prejudice clouding the screening of qualified applicants, but excuses such as 'Black talent is too hard to find' are no longer acceptable.


This lack of diversity, in every sector, is an issue that needs to be addressed from the inside out and top-down, considering all policies, practices, and structures.


Organisations must follow through on their initiatives with a clear structure, staff training, and continued evaluation to ensure biases within the recruitment cycle are addressed. The need is to not only prioritise securing diverse talent but to nurture them, supply equal opportunities for them, and create leaders within them too.



If you're in the recruitment industry, as an employer or employee, and want to learn more about Programme One, head to their website.


If you're from an ethnic minority background and want to learn more about how you can thrive in a career in recruitment, click here. Likewise, if you're an experienced recruiter hoping to progress in your career, click here.

Book in a call with one of the team about your hiring needs.

Meet Recruitment 2022. Meet Recruitment Ltd., Meet Recruitment Inc. and Meet Personalberatung GmbH are all subsidiaries of Meet Group (No. 13556131) a company registered in England and Wales at Irongate House, 22-30 Dukes Place, London, EC3A 7LP.
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