Ever since the Civil Rights era, state and local government positions have been a mainstay of minority and women’s employment. This sector, which accounts for around 13% of jobs in the U.S., has traditionally been welcoming to women and minorities, offering a path to prosperity for previously under-employed people.
Just how welcoming are these jobs? Unfortunately, the reality may not be as rosy. A recent study by GovernmentJobs.com analyzed over 16 million applicants by ethnicity, race and gender after they applied for jobs in 2018 and 2019.
Of those candidates who were qualified for the jobs they applied for:
- Black women got the job 58% less often than white men
- Women, in general, were 27% less likely to get the job than men
Some 2,700 job applicants were then surveyed. The researchers noted that African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population but accounted for 28% of applications for positions in state and local government. And, nearly a third of the applicants told the researchers that they felt it would be less likely they would be discriminated against than in the private sector, according to the New York Times.
State and local jobs have been disappearing
According to the Times, about 9.5 million jobs have disappeared during the pandemic. Of those, nearly 1.4 million were from state and local work forces.
This could be caused by a number of factors, including hits to state and municipal budgets, an inability to keep customer-facing offices open through remote work, or a general downturn in government employment. However, it comes as a surprise to find that state and local employers appear to hire women and African Americans at lower rates than their percentage of the population or of the applicant pool.
What steps could be taken to reduce the disparity?
When a disparate impact is discovered, it can be difficult to discover the source. Is there an overtly discriminatory policy responsible? Or is the apparent discrimination merely the result of individual decision-making and possible unconscious bias?
There are still steps that can be taken to reduce unconscious bias in hiring. For example, this study found that Black women were called more often for interviews when their personally identifying information was stripped from the application before screening.
That is to say, when the recruiter did not know the candidate’s name, race or gender, minority and female candidates tended to advance to the interview stage at a higher rate.
Another option is to use a standardized scoring rubric with specific guidelines on how to score. When such a rubric was used to show how the applicants compared, more Black women made the cut.
One woman interviewed by the Times believes it. She had a single person tell her that she ought to go by “Penny” instead of her full name Penisha because it seemed easier to pronounce. She started listing her name as Penny on applications and got many more responses.