Data Has Revealed Some Ugly Truths about Race in Your Job Search

January 22nd 2015

If racism within the United States came in flavors, the general public would point to a mild, rather than extra hot flavor, when comparing racism today to the racism of 50 years ago. 

Yes, blatant forms of discrimination are no longer legal thanks to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but recent research shows a more subtle, yet arguably equally as potent, form of racism exists today. Current forms of racism don’t look like the lynchings of racism past, but fall into what is called "aversive" racism -- when people who consciously know and profess that all people are equal still subconsciously mistreat people based on their race. 

What is “aversive” racism?

Aversive racism can be measured by matched pair testing. This tactic pairs individuals of different races who have similar mannerisms and physical build and then looks at how society treats them.

The pairs are trained to act similarly in public and are given the same fake background or resume so their only major difference is their race. The pairs are then sent out in the world, bright-eyed and ready to apply to a job opening (or other social resources, like a home loan for instance) to discover how their outcomes differ based on their race. 

A 2010 field study used this method to test hiring practices at New York City fine dining restaurants. It uncovered stark evidence against the notion that we live in a post-racial society. 

They found that minorities were only 54 percent as likely as whites to receive a job offer, and the minority servers hired earned 12 percent less than their white peers who had the same qualifications. 

Because one in four American adult's first experience in the labor force happens at restaurants, this study reflects the discrimination faced by minorities entering and trying to move up in the US labor market . 

Another study in 2003 paired individuals of different races with similar mannerisms and background and sent them to apply to hundreds of jobs in both Milwaukee and New York City. 

In Milwaukee, whites received a call back or job offer 34 percent of the time compared to 14 percent of the time for Blacks. The study found very similar results in New York City.

Since the early 1990s, dozens of these matched pair testing studies were conducted across industries and racial groups with similarly sad results - ethnic and racial minorities are much less likely to be called back by an employer, given a job, and/or are paid much less than white peers who have the same exact qualifications. 

The employers highlighted in these studies probably didn’t set out to blatantly discriminate against the applicants, but their unconscious choices and hiring decisions were influenced by race in a way that cannot be ignored. 

Subliminal racism matters.

Most individuals in our society cling to a color-blind attitude about race --  claiming they see no differences in people based on race and thus they treat all people the same. These matched pair studies paint a different picture entirely, showing negative internal attitudes certainly impact the decisions people make when faced with racial differences.

The current social trend of subconsciously barring racial minorities from opportunities based solely on their race has just as many bad effects on the mental health and socioeconomic well-being of minority groups as it did 50 years ago when explicit forms of racism were legal. 

One study highlighted this paradox well. When interviewing employers on their attitudes about race and hiring practices, many vehemently claimed that they did not look at race at all when screening applicants, yet in the same breath, when asked to summarize race differences in general, employers in the study expressed strong opinions about perceived characteristics of different workers based on their race (i.e. black men are lazy or seen as a threat, etc). 

The challenge our current society faces when discussing racism today is that it’s harder to identity. Today’s flavor of racism is like a habanero pepper masked in cheese - hard to see, easier to swallow, but still just as painful. The first step to progressing forward and undoing racial discrimination is to reflect on our own biases and start to dismantle them one by one.

Share your opinion

Do you believe you have been discriminated against for a job position because of your race?

No 43%Yes 57%