Racism in Recruitment: What Can We Do about It?

Racism in Recruitment: What Can We Do about It?

Federal legislation protects ethnic minorities across the United States from discrimination, yet workplace racism still persists. Thousands of US citizens report job discrimination every year, yet employers are rarely held to account.

In this article, we look at racism throughout the recruitment process, exploring its damaging impact on both businesses and society as a whole, and what we can do about it.

Studies show that hiring discrimination against black Americans continues.

The issue of race is a pertinent and controversial topic in America today. Racism has prompted discussions on First Amendment rights, immigration, policing, and even professional football. Nevertheless, despite dramatic examples of ongoing racial tension, the majority of white American citizens remain of the opinion that race is no longer a limiting factor to a person’s lifetime opportunities.


Research reveals that that many white US citizens believe lingering tensions result from the actions of a few outliers rather than indicating a broader trend of systemic racial inequality. However, the true picture in terms of long-term racial discrimination reveals something different.

Discrimination often manifests subtly.

This makes it notoriously difficult to measure. Until relatively recently, there was little in the way of tools and information to track changes in discrimination over time. Nevertheless, a study profiled by the Harvard Business Review in 2017 produced surprising results.

The researchers analyzed data gathered through 24 separate field experiments, including data from 54,000 job applications across 25,000 positions. The study used pairs of testers—white and nonwhite—to track discrimination in the selection process, monitoring callbacks and invitations to interview.

Broadly speaking, analysis of callback rates from existing field experiments revealed evidence of discrimination against both Latino and black applicants. The study found that, since 1990, white applicants received approximately 36 percent more callbacks than black candidates. White candidates also received 24 percent more callbacks than Latino candidates, despite submitting identical resumes.

The report suggested a subtle decline in discrimination against Latinos over the last 25 years. Nevertheless, since this group was relatively small, the study’s authors suggested initial findings may be inconclusive.

In terms of black job applicants, the study found no change in hiring rates over the same period. Taking into account factors such as gender, education, occupational groups, education, and local labor market conditions, the report found no change in discrimination rates against black applicants since the 1990s, even after adjustments.

The study’s authors acknowledged that hiring discrimination may have dropped substantially since the civil rights era in the 1960s and 1970s, when various types of blatant discrimination were outlawed. The researchers further indicated that their results pertain only to discrimination in recruitment, and do not take into account issues at a later stage of the employment relationship, such as promotion decisions and wage setting.

Nevertheless, the study underlined that black individuals continue to be substantially disadvantaged in the recruitment process compared to whites. Additionally, there is little indication of improvement over time.

Employment discrimination is bad for society.

The United Nations (UN) points out that a person’s gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or race should have no bearing on their opportunities, achievements, or wellbeing. Nevertheless, discrimination remains a fundamental problem across the globe. In the UN’s Report on the World Social Situation published in 2016, the international organization found that discriminatory behaviors and norms remain widespread and continue to fuel social exclusion.


Discrimination can impede a person’s opportunities and wellbeing. Persistent exposure to discrimination can trigger internalization of stigma or prejudice. This can manifest itself as feelings of stress, shame, low self-esteem, and even impacting an individual’s health.

Employment discrimination is bad for business.

Employment discrimination can negatively affect businesses in numerous ways. High-profile discrimination suits can cost large corporations potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. The financial impact of discrimination can come in the form of court awards for damages or through loss of business as a result of negative publicity.

The negative effect of discrimination goes far beyond cash liabilities, however. Internal productivity, the ability to recruit and retain staff, and even public perception can all be adversely impacted by discriminatory practices.

Censia eliminates discrimination and bias from the recruitment process.

Censia has transformed the recruitment process, helping companies transition from ineffective, manual processes to automation and predictive intelligence. It accomplishes this by excluding factors known to trigger unconscious bias and discrimination, considering only the candidates’ qualifications and achievements.

A company’s most valuable asset is its workforce. Nevertheless, attracting top talent is growing evermore challenging. Censia utilizes intuitive, advanced technology to help companies find the right person quickly and efficiently. Censia’s Talent Intelligence Platform leverages AI and machine learning technology to predictively match job opportunities with top-tier candidates.

About the Author

Joanna RileyJoanna (Jo) Riley is an entrepreneur, investor, and advocate in technology, and is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Censia. Jo has a highly experienced background in building and scaling companies, which she attributes to her deep passion for people and building technologies that allow people to be their best selves. She brings her wide knowledge of the industry to better transform the way enterprise companies hire talent. You can connect with Joanna Riley at @joannakiddriley on Twitter or on Linkedin. Read her full bio here.