Hiring Discrimination Exists Whether Employers Admit It Or Not

Yesterday, I was participating in YouTern‘s radio show discussing what students should know about resumes and job searches when we got a caller from North Carolina.

hiring discriminationAs a career center adviser for a college, she wanted to know how to equip students in handling employer stereotyping and discrimination. Many of the students she was working with made it to the interview stage, but encountered racism and discrimination that ended up in them not getting the nod to be hired.

What an absolutely life-crushing moment.

Students emerge from school absolutely idealistic about the opportunities in front of them, only to have their biggest dreams squashed by small-minded employers who can’t see past their own bias to recognize the wealth of experience and ideas that these students offer.

Discrimination is a real problem that continues to afflict the workforce… whether employers admit it or not.

So what kind of advice could the radio show panelists offer the adviser who was advocating for her students?

The discussion between the three of us on the show split exactly three different ways.

Eric, the moderator, suggested that students should be proud and not be afraid to include information about affiliations that might reveal things about race, religion,political affiliations, and gender preferences.  Bluntly, he said that if employers were going to be discriminatory on those points, then the students probably didn’t want to work there.

I absolutely applaud this viewpoint, and couldn’t agree more.  But again, I see this as idealistic. The reality is that there are a lot of employers out there who do not practice or follow through on diversity initiatives.  This further limits the “pool” of jobs where these students can apply.

Mark, the other panelist, suggested another approach.  Students should  be looking at smaller companies and start ups because they are starved for talent and are more quick to snap up qualified applicants regardless of their background. New businesses are definitely looking to gain the upper hand over competitors and the owners are more hungry for energy and talent.  But the downside to this viewpoint is that while bigger companies might have institutional discrimination at the center of their core, smaller companies often don’t have a formal human resources infrastructure to ensure that discrimination doesn’t enter into some aspect of the application screening process.  Who is to say that at Friday at 5pm the day the application closes, behind closed doors, the employer is sifting through the pile of resumes and sees something they don’t like?  You know what happens next: “Oopsie… I never received that document.”

My take on how to help the caller:  Most career industry professionals counsel clients to leave off any personal activities that are not relevant to the job in order to neutralize the document from potential discriminatory practices.  Does a potential employer need to be informed your religion? Is that relevant to the job being performed? My take: if it is not relevant, leave it off.  That can help in getting to the interview.

But the real tool in helping students navigate through the tricky waters of discriminatory employers lies in networking.   Anything they can do to learn more about the target company culture and what they value is going to help them get past the interview… and into the job.  By activating an internal advocate at the company, not only does that put more weight and gravitas to the student’s application, but this company “mole” can also give advice on what the employer values and if diversity is truly a company culture advocacy area.  Many businesses purport to be focusing on diversity initiatives but stop short before actually “walking the walk” – so having someone on the inside can help give students a better perspective about a culture fit.

I’d love to hear what you think about this issue.

What other advice could you offer this caller and anyone else facing hiring discrimination? What has worked for you? What hasn’t?