‘Whitened’ Resumes Earn More Callbacks, Even by Employers that Favor Diversity

A study by researchers at the University of Toronto and Stanford University finds that resumes that have been “whitened” by minority job seekers are twice as likely to receive callbacks in job searches, even by companies that claim they value diversity.

The researchers examined the practice of whitening, which involves applicants editing or omitting any information on their resumes that could identify their ethnicity — from a “foreign-sounding” name to involvement in professional African American or Asian organizations — and adding experiences considered to be more mainstream “white,” like hiking and kayaking. To do this, they interviewed minority students and sent 1,600 fabricated resumes — some of which had been whitened — to companies in 16 U.S. cities.

Thirty-six percent of the 59 African American and Asian students interviewed by researchers said that they had whitened their resumes when seeking jobs or internships. Half of those students reported having altered their name as part of that.

They also found that when minority students were responding to job postings that used pro-diversity language, they were 1.5 times less likely to whiten their resumes.

On the employer side, researchers found that 25.5 percent of resumes with whitened African American names received a callback, compared to 10 percent of those where the name was unaltered. For resumes of fictional Asian applicants, 21 percent of whitened resumes earned a callback, but only 11.5 percent of those left as-is earned an interview.

Sonia Kang, lead author of the study and assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the Institute for Management and Innovation at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said the callback gap was no smaller for companies that touted a commitment to diversity versus those that did not have a diversity statement in their job posting.

“Employers are sending signals that students are picking up on, that this is a safe place where you can use your real name and real experiences,” Kang said. “But [the students] are not being rewarded at all. … The statements the employers are putting out there aren’t tied to any real change in discriminatory practices.”

The researchers suggested that companies employ blind recruitment policies to prevent unconscious discrimination. Kang told The Guardian that she believes applicants shouldn’t have to edit their accomplishments to land a job.

“Some people have found that whitening helps,” she said, “but I think that the larger message is that it shouldn’t be up to minorities to find ways to avoid discrimination.”