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We're Hiring...but only those who look like us



There were two candidates interviewing for a marketing role. One was white, one was black. Both with similar background and skills. The team responsible for hiring decided on the white candidate. The manager decided to have the candidates submit their writing anonymously and then receive the team’s feedback once again. The team unanimously and unknowingly picked the black candidate’s work. The black candidate was offered the position.

When I asked the manager why she did this, she said, “I felt they were just picking the white candidate because it was what they were more comfortable with and what’s mostly here in the company. I wanted to remove the bias and give both candidates a fair chance without race being a factor.”

This manager is considered an ally and what happened here is not common. Most people won’t speak up or do anything to remove the bias. Knowing the people that were on the hiring team, I ruled out racism as a factor. Sometimes we don’t even know we are being bias towards something or someone until it has been positioned to us in a different way that removes the bias.

This doesn’t just happen in the interview process. This also happens within the job application phase.

A study was done that sent 9700 fake resumes of recent college grads into an available job position with similar experience and skill sets. For one half, they used “typically white” names and gave the other half “typically black” names.

The results of the study showed that black applicants still face persistent discrimination in the job market. They were invited in for interviews 15.2% of the time, while white applicants received invitations 18% of the time. To put it another way, black applicants were 16% less likely to get called in for an interview.

The study also proves that that black applicants faced major discrimination when applying for jobs with a customer focus or titles that included: “customer,” “sales,” “advisor,” “representative,” “agent,” and “loan officer” in the description. For these jobs, the discrimination gap soared. Instead of facing a 2.8 percentage-point gap between callback rates for whites and blacks, they faced a 4.4-point gap.

For jobs with descriptions that lacked those terms and were instead focused on interaction with coworkers, the level of discrimination collapsed. Descriptions with terms such as “manager,” “administrator,” “coordinator,” “operations,” and so forth — the difference in callback rates was 0.1 to 0.3 percentage points.

Even though this study was done three years ago, many candidates still face these challenges today. You can read more about this study here.

As a black woman in Silicon Valley, I’ve seen all kinds of biases against all races, genders, backgrounds and sexual orientations in the workplace. Based on my own experience and personal observation, I’ve come to a very clear conclusion: We hire who we mostly relate to or look like. Unconsciously or consciously, bias sets in from the minute we jot down the job description or see a candidate's name.

I’ve also observed that some recruiters are guilty of representing and adopting the same bias of the companies they represent. They look at the collected group of people or type of people the company uses for advertising or already have in-house — and build a candidate pool from there.

However, removing bias from the hiring process isn’t just the company’s responsibility. It is also the candidates. If a candidate sees that the entire group within the company is one race or gender, they are less likely to apply already assuming that they wouldn’t be a fit. This is an unfortunate move for the candidate — you can never properly know until you have met the people within the company and given them a chance to meet you. If you need some help getting over your bias, rest assured that you are doing the company a huge favor by applying. Racially diverse companies outperform their competition by 35%

This is just by race alone - not to mention gender, religion, or sexual orientation. So, in short, you are doing the company a favor by applying and putting yourself in the game. There is no sugarcoating this, bias in the hiring process and in the workplace is real. The sooner employers acknowledge where they are, they can begin to take empathic action to address it.

If you could raise your revenue, sales, users or whatever your “driving force” is by 35% — wouldn’t that be amazing? This should not be the motive and incentive for removing the bias, but it’s not a bad way to start looking at things a little differently as an employer. If you are worried about hiring the wrong people, it’s not the people you need to look at – it’s your hiring process. A good robust hiring and onboarding process will do all the work for you. You just have to humanize it and remove the bias.

If this article has inspired you to re-think, re-look, and re-evolve the way you look at your hiring process, here are a few practical tips that can help you get started.

Identify the bias. Identify and create a plan of action to rectify the source that’s bringing in any type of bias or favoritism in the workplace. Is it in the application screening? Or when you meet the candidate for the first time? Do you see a pattern of the type of people that are being promoted? Is there a specific individual or team of people at your workplace that consistently passes on certain resumes or applicants? It’s important to find the root of the bias and work from there.

Ask an outside expert. It can be difficult to see the mistakes that your company might be making when you’re right in the middle of it, every single day. Admit where you are and reach out for help. Don’t assume you know where to go next. Hire an outside expert with fresh eyes who can help you identify the problems of your hiring process and guide you with a concrete plan. Keep in mind you’ll be tackling sensitive topics, so discussing it with someone outside your organization would also work in your company’s favor.

Get feedback. If you have a diverse group of close friends, gather them for dinner and ask if you can discuss bias in the hiring process. Listen to their stories and see what insight you might be able to gain from their experience or views. Ask if they’ve worked for companies with an ideal hiring process or what they would change if they could. This can be extremely helpful to your next steps.

Work alongside recruiters who are genuine. Find a recruiter that celebrates diversity and is completely up front that it’s an important value to them. Let them know that you value and desire an unbiased candidate flow that supports the diverse environment your company needs. Make sure they’re genuine, this means that you find more material or content other than just legal jargon at the bottom of a website footer when it comes to the subject of diversity. If they’re tip-toeing around the topic or brush past it just so they “check a box” that they’ve covered it, this isn’t who you want to work alongside with. You want a recruiter that addresses the situation head-on. There aren’t many of them out there, but it’s important to seek this out to build the best hiring foundation for your company.

Be transparent with your team and potential candidates. Going forward, transparency is key. If you’re going through great lengths to change your hiring process to prevent biases and to build more diversity, your employees should know. Send an email out or have a company meeting to explain the new process. This isn’t so you can get a pat on the back for “doing the right thing” or to expose your wrongdoings in the past — but so you can let them know that you are aware and so that the topic of diversity is no longer “taboo” to discuss at the workplace. Employees will feel like they can talk about it with their peers and go to HR if they have concerns.


Take it a step further, and place your new initiative on your company website where your application process lives. Potential candidates will have the opportunity to see that even though your company might look like a specific image now, that you’re aware and you’re diligently trying to change that. Github did exactly that, check out their CEO’s letter on diversity and inclusion. (Also includes insightful infographics and charts.)

Lastly, if there is bias in your hiring process, it doesn’t mean you are racist or dislike a particular race or type of person. It just means that you have yet to experience the amazing benefit from having a diverse workplace. Eventually, the goal is to look past what is on the outside and truly dig into what is in the inside, that is where the magic is. I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Thank you for reading!

About Culture Circle Humanity. Ubuntu. Efficiency. These key values create the foundation for inclusive and healthy workplace cultures. U.S-based Culture Circle, founded by Charisse Fontes, is the only Black-owned, Woman-run Culture Consulting Agency that transforms the employee experience through the lens of anthropology and humanity. Connect with our tribe here.


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