Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market

From Administrative Science Quarterly

Employment discrimination is a critical process through which organizations can shape the extent and nature of economic inequality in society. Despite the proliferation of equal opportunity and diversity initiatives in organizations, discrimination on the basis of race, in particular, remains pervasive in North American labor markets. Using interviews, a laboratory experiment, and a résumé audit study, this research examines 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.” Findings suggest that minority job applicants engage in résumé whitening to a lesser degree when targeting organizations that signal a commitment to racial diversity and equality. Résumé whitening may be as much about the self-presentation of employers as it is about the self-presentation of job seekers. Future research should continue to examine how the interplay between supply-side and demand-side processes—the self-presentational choices of both job seekers and employers—shape labor market inequality.

Abstract

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 targeting 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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Article details

Sonia K. Kang, Katherine A. DeCelles, András Tilcsik, and Sora Jun
Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor MarketAdministrative Science Quarterly 0001839216639577, first published on March 17, 2016 doi:10.1177/0001839216639577

 

     
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