Whitened Résumés: How Race and Diversity Impacts the Application Process

4818650660_8e0cfee0de_zWhat do employers look for in job applications? This is an essential question for job seekers, and depending upon how an employer represents their hiring practices, it may determine how job applicants choose to represent themselves in their applications. When it comes to race and diversity, this can be an especially complex matter, especially for applicants considering résumé whitening. In the recent Administrative Science Quarterly article, “Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market,” authors Sonia K. Kang, Katherine A. DeCelles, András Ticsik, and Sora Jun consider how the presentation of an employer’s hiring practices directly impacts how applicants choose to represent themselves. The abstract for their paper:

Using interviews, a laboratory experiment, and a résumé audit study, we examine racial minorities’ attempts to avoid anticipated discrimination in labor markets by concealing or downplaying racial cues in job applications, a practice known as “résumé whitening.” Interviews with racial minority university students reveal that while some minority job seekers reject this practice, others view it as essential and use a variety of whitening techniques. Building on the qualitative findings, we conduct a lab study to examine how racial minority job seekers change their résumés in response to different job postings. Results show that when ASQ Covertargeting an employer that presents itself as valuing diversity, minority job applicants engage in relatively little résumé whitening and thus submit more racially transparent résumés. Yet our audit study of how employers respond to whitened and unwhitened résumés shows that organizational diversity statements are not actually associated with reduced discrimination against unwhitened résumés. Taken together, these findings suggest a paradox: minorities may be particularly likely to experience disadvantage when they apply to ostensibly pro-diversity employers. These findings illuminate the role of racial concealment and transparency in modern labor markets and point to an important interplay between the self-presentation of employers and the self-presentation of job seekers in shaping economic inequality.

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*Career fair image credited to Michael Starghill, Partnership for Public Service (CC) 

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