A disturbing new University of Toronto study has revealed many minority job applicants are “resume whitening” – deleting signs of race from CVs in hopes of boosting their chances.
In interviews with 59 jobseeking black and Asian university students in a major North American metropolitan area, researchers found a third had “whitened” their resumes.
Two thirds of the students also said they knew someone else who had engaged in “resume whitening” – in fact, the practice was considered common among respondents.
Of those students who had “whitened” their resumes, half said they had changed their first names to sound more “American”, or used middle names that sounded “white” or “neutral.”
Shockingly, one Chinese-American student even said this technique had been suggested to her by university careers advisors and she got many more callbacks after switching.
Erasing Trayvon Martin
Two thirds of the students who “resume whitened” also said they left out details hinting at their minority status.
One black college student explained, “I’ve been involved in a lot of black [campus]
groups and even though I’ve had leadership in them … [I] would take them off my resume and you really couldn’t tell that I was necessarily a black person.”
Another black student, who taught middle school kids as part of a program named after an “outspoken black abolitionist”, described a particularly alarming episode.
“In the wake of Trayvon Martin, we had a seminar dealing with authority. And … a black guy at Goldman Sachs [told me] to remove [it] from my resume because of how controversial it could look,” she told researchers.
“I guess it just goes to show you, like, that I very much embraced that idea that, to get ahead, some parts of our race need to be only talked about at certain times. Some parts of my racial identity need to be squashed or held back.”
While many students concealed leadership roles on campus, one student even removed the fact he had received a prestigious scholarship from his resume.
“On my résumé … it listed that I was a Gates Millennium Scholar, but then my
coach … told me not to put that because many employers, they see that and,
depending on who’s looking at your resume, they may see that and say ‘Oh, this is a black kid, he was able to get a scholarship from Bill Gates,’ and this could hurt … my ability
to get a job,” he told researchers.
“And so, I no longer put that I’m a Gates Millennium Scholar on my resume.”
Students also emphasized their “assimilation into white culture,” the study found, highlighting what they considered more “American” activities like snowboarding or hiking.
Is pro-diversity a disadvantage?
Through a lab experiment and a resume audit study, researchers did find that minority job applicants were less likely to “resume whiten” when applying to a company with a stated commitment to diversity.
But paradoxically, it also found that pro-diversity statements were not actually associated with better treatment of “unwhitened” resumes – and the scenario could mean minority jobseekers were actually at a disadvantage applying to such companies.
“Diversity statements… might give minority job seekers a false sense of security, signalling equal opportunity where discrimination still exists, and encouraging them to reveal racial cues that they might otherwise downplay or conceal,” reads the study.
“Because minority job seekers tend to respond to diversity statements with greater racial transparency, they may be especially likely to experience disadvantage when applying to employers that emphasize their commitment to diversity.”
Have you ever “whitened” your resume? Do you know someone who has? Have you ever received a “whitened” resume? What was you reaction? Share your experiences with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line: Resume whitening.