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Discrimination Audit: People With Black Names Get Fewer Callbacks

On Behalf of | Aug 11, 2021 | Employment Issues For Employers |

Three researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago recently released a major audit of discrimination in hiring among large corporations in the United States. After sending out pairs of identical resumes, half of which had “white” names” and half with “Black” names, they found unequivocally that people with “Black” names get fewer callbacks than otherwise identical white peers.

However, the effect wasn’t universal. After reviewing the results from 83,000 fake job applications, the researchers discovered that about a fifth of the companies were responsible for a much greater percentage of the differential. And, they were forced to conclude that 23 specific companies were “very likely to be engaged in systemic discrimination against Black applicants.”

The researchers aren’t ready to name names, although they have briefed the Department of Labor about their general findings. They plan to release those names once they have exposed their data to additional statistical tests.

According to the New York Times, the Berkeley/Chicago research team sent out 83,000 applications, mostly to Fortune 500 companies and their subsidiaries. They targeted entry-level positions.

General characteristics of the supposed applicants, such as education, experience and sexual orientation varied at random. However, half of the applicants were given more traditionally “white” names like Jake and Molly, while the other half were given more traditionally “Black” names like DeShawn and Imani. Those applications were paired, and the outcomes compared.

For each 1,000 applicants, on average, the “white” candidates got approximately 250 responses. The “Black” candidates received about 230 responses. However, among about a fifth of the companies, the gap between responses grew to about 50, instead of 20. And, 23 companies showed strong statistical evidence of race discrimination.

The 23 companies were not identified, but the researchers revealed that some were federal contractors, who are held to stricter standards for racial equity.

These findings were not dissimilar from other studies in which fake applications were sent to companies to compare statistical outcomes.

Interestingly, the discrimination was not linked to geography. Retail concerns and restaurants tended to discriminate more than other companies. Employers that handled hiring through centralized personnel operations tended to discriminate less.

Discrimination means less profitability

The study confirmed another interesting proposition: discrimination is costly to the employer. That is to say, companies that discriminate tend to be less profitable. This was consistent with studies from as early as the 1950s.

If you are concerned your company might be unintentionally discriminating against people of color, consider removing all possible race identifiers from each application. You can do this, for example, by redacting the person’s name and by avoiding pre-interview questions or activity that could potentially identify an applicant’s race.