Recently, I had the task of reviewing résumés for an assistant. As I sifted through the endless pile, I realized that I had to use some process of elimination if there was a hope of getting through it. During this process, I ran across all types of résumés; good, bad, and downright ugly. Some of the resumes featured names were not readily pronounceable. Some denoted a European applicant, while others indicated an applicant from Western Africa or Southeast D.C. In my evaluation of each application, I searched ardently for grammatical errors and other “red flags” that pointed to a lack of competence and professionalism. Depending upon the credentials of the individual, I showed leniency if the error was minor. However, many were screened out.
When I looked back over the pool of applicants I accepted versus those that were rejected, I began to question the lens through which I viewed the applications. Was it consistent? Did I overlook an applicant’s mistake because of perceived racial identity? Did I write a candidate off as unqualified or non-ideal because of national origin? Did I give that guy a break because I understand the unequal playing field faced by unemployed minorities?
As the face of ethics and compliance within ABCD & Company, these are the questions that stalk me each time I review a candidate for employment—and I’m glad about it. These questions force me to reconcile with the realities of our society that affect HR professionals everywhere. The pitfall of many hiring authorities is the assumption that the absence of racial hatred is synonymous with the absence of racial stereotypes. Unfortunately, racial stereotypes have permeated American culture at every level. As a result, we are all capable of responding to others based on unfair, pre-conceived notions. Even as a minority, I find it necessary to ask myself these questions to ensure that I maintain fair and equitable hiring practices.
Ignoring the role of stereotyping in the hiring process doesn’t get rid of racial disparities; it perpetuates them. Furthermore, you run the risk of EEO complaints and lawsuits, which can be damaging to your company’s reputation and financial heath. One EEO incident can affix a permanent stigma to your company, eliminating business opportunities that would normally be available to you.
To all HR professionals, I charge you to ask yourselves these questions. Don’t allow the fear of being “racist” to prevent true self-evaluation. Perhaps if every HR professional adheres to a policy of brutal honesty, diversity will become the norm in in Corporate America sooner than we imagine.