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How to Make Black History Month Matter: Addressing Inequity in Hiring

We can honor Black History Month now and every day by tackling issues in the workplace. In this post, we learn to address the inequity found in hiring and ways to fix it.

How to Make Black History Month Matter: Addressing Inequity in Hiring

As a gentle reminder:  Black history isn’t just something we celebrate with some picture we post on our social media. No, Black history is created daily by the people we know. With the ones we work for and with. And sometimes by those we love and are related to. Last week, I wrote “How to Make Black History Month Matter: Addressing the Racial Wage Gap” as part of my Black History Month series. This week, I am continuing my exploration of ways institutions and companies can make Black History Month matter in real ways to their staff and clients.

This is the second in a series of posts about how to make Black History Month matter in your workplace or organization; it will address systems of inequity and doing something about them. Last week, I highlighted how Black and African American staff received less pay than their White counterparts. This week, I’ll continue to address other systems of inequity – such as the hiring and advancement process.


Change the Hiring Patterns

Last summer, in the midst of companies that looked at addressing systemic racism in their organizations, I received a phone call from my brother-in-law. He works for a multi-national company in a vice-president role and wanted to start a conversation but didn’t know where to start. I asked him how many of the senior leaders were White and how many of the managers were White. He paused and replied, “All of them, now that I think about it.”

We started there.

Digging a little deeper, I learned that many of the staff hired received a job offer based on staff recommendations. That the mostly White staff were giving preference to their mostly White friends and colleagues. Who, I suppose, were also highly skilled and qualified for the job, but nonetheless, bypassed traditional screening routes and other metrics to measure diversity initiatives. It can also be referred to as the ‘mini-me’ phenomenon, where managers are looking to hiring staff that looks, sounds, and acts like them.

Racial bias in hiring is very real. Markedly, in a 2003 study by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, applicants with White-sounding names (like Emily Walsh) received 50% more interview offers than applicants with Black-sounding names (like Lakisha Washington) for interviews. In the same study, the same resume reached real recruiters for actual positions in companies that had diversity-hiring initiatives in place, with only the names and extra-curricular involvement changed. The study found that “Whitening résumés by altering names and extracurricular experiences increased the callback rate from 10% to nearly 26% for Blacks, and from about 12% to 21% for Asians.”


What Can You Do?

Even if you’re not in a hiring manager position, you can start to ask questions. Challenge your leaders to answer the bigger questions about equity in the hiring process. And support your colleagues with your added voice to hold people accountable. Not sure where to start? Consider the action items listed below.

Every company and I mean EVERY company needs to review its hiring processes

If stated diversity aims exist, ask how achievements reached the stated goals? If candidates receive a resume screen by the hiring manager, how did these aims receive monitoring to ensure equity? Or if screened by human resources, what are the agreed on metrics to ensure a diverse pool? What weight do personal testimonies have to advance candidates?

One important process to review is anti-bias training for managers. We can no longer assume that anti-racist intentions will show up in the hiring process. For instance, employers must train their staff on how to self-identify these behaviors and how to actively work against them in the hiring process. Plus newly hired managers should receive this training before managing or hiring new staff.

Consider looking at other pipelines to add new talent

Sydney Freeman, Ph.D. from the University of Idaho, recommends that companies should “[h]ire people from historically Black colleges and universities, and not just Black people from elite institutions. Institutions that are less prestigious can still have a lot of great talent.” Similarly, Tina Opie, Ph.D., visiting MIT MLK scholar and associate professor at Babson College, recommends “developing relationships with Black organizations — like a church or professional group — that can offer access to a pipeline of Black talent. But be careful not to delegate diverse hiring to an external organization… It’s still the hiring company’s responsibility.”

Identify the barriers for advancement

Racial bias doesn’t just occur in the initial hiring stage. It can also happen for existing staff. Companies across all industries will need to review how staff is identified and trained to move into management positions. As a dashboard of diversity initiatives is reviewed, managers should reach out to Black staff. Among other questions, they should begin asking about barrier questions.

For instance, Black staff may identify ways the company can improve. Such as having a stated diversity initiative but no money to actually train staff to manage bias. Or identify managers racially biased against Black staff, making the culture unwelcoming. Above all, senior leaders committed to racial justice can demonstrate their continued commitment by dismantling these barriers that positively impact everyone.

Build a skill-set to test your own biases in hiring

Biases exist and can show up even when we know they shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn tips to overcome them. For instance, Ruchika Tulshyan recounts how CEO Kristen Pressner “gave a brave TEDx talk, where she admitted to harboring gender bias against women leaders, despite identifying as a woman herself. Pressner developed a technique to disrupt bias — ask yourself, if you were to swap out the candidate from an underrepresented background with one of your more typical hires, would you have the same reaction? For example, if a woman of color candidate speaks passionately, and you’re less inclined to hire her because you think of her as “angry,” would you use the same word if a white man spoke the same way?”

Ask yourself, what else can I do to examine my anti-Black biases? It is a tough conversation, but necessary in order to work toward equity and begin to include others. As I said before, we can all do something, and these conversations start with our own self.


Continue Your Education: Addressing Inequity in Hiring

One thought on “How to Make Black History Month Matter: Addressing Inequity in Hiring

  1. Pingback: How to Make Black History Month Matter: Moving Beyond Diversity and Inclusion Statements to Diversity Actions | Leadership and Values in Action, LLC

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