Does indicating race and gender on a resume hurt your job chances?

Discrimination in the workplace is a reality for many. Do indications of your race or gender help or hurt your chances of getting a job?

Discrimination in the workplace is an unfortunate reality. While many companies are working to promote diversity, individual and institutional prejudices are still an issue.

Many job-seekers worry that biased treatment may begin before they even land a job interview. Could hints about your race or gender – even those afforded by your name – hurt your chances of landing a job? What about “whitewashing” your resume? Below, we’ll consider the results of the often conflicting research conducted during the last decade.

Do indications of race and gender on a resume create bias?

Academic research has compiled contradictory data on this subject. Consider two studies from 2016.

Some studies say it does

According to one study, published in Administrative Science Quarterly, Black and Asian applicants are more likely to receive job interviews if their resumes did not contain racial clues.

In conducting the study, researchers created resumes for Black and Asian job applicants and sent them out for 1,600 entry-level jobs posted on job search websites in 16 metropolitan areas of the United States. Some of the resumes included information that clearly pointed out the applicants’ minority status, while others were “whitened,” meaning racial cues were erased from them. They then tracked how many applicants were later called in for interviews. 

The “whitening” process involved Asian applicants modifying their first names, either replacing them with an American nickname or including the nickname in addition to their real name. Black applicants reported using a “neutral” sounding middle name instead of their first name.

Changes to extra professional experiences were also made. This included removing experiences that indicate minority status or might be associated with racial stereotypes and describing activities in a “race-neutral” way.

The “whitened” resumes received nearly double the interview requests of the “non-whitened” resumes. The control group of Black resumes had a 10 percent interview request rate, and this increased to 25 percent for whitened resumes. Asian applicants received interview requests 11.5 percent of the time, increasing to 21 percent when the resumes were whitened.

While others indicate it may not

In contrasting studies, researchers from the University of Missouri sent out 9,000 fictitious resumes that clearly indicated applicants’ race and gender through their names and found that gender and race had no effect on whether candidates received a callback.

During the study, the researchers distributed 9,000 fake resumes to companies with surnames that suggest the applicants come from either Black, Hispanic or white backgrounds. They used the first names of the applicants to suggest gender.

This study revisited research conducted in 2004 which indicated that candidates with distinctly African-American names got less callbacks than those with White-sounding names.

How does this compare to the job market at large?

According to the 2017 Recruiting Funnel Benchmark Report, one in six candidates, or about 16 percent, will be called in for an interview.

Glassdoor’s ebook 50 HR and Recruiting Stats That Make You Think reports an even smaller number – that only four to six out of 250 candidates applying to a corporate position will be called in for an interview. That’s only 1.6 to 2.4 percent.

The effect of company culture

It would seem logical to assume that a company culture that embraces diversity would be less affected by indicators of race or gender. Yet, the study outlined earlier found that companies that are “ostensibly pro-diversity” also had a higher rejection rate than companies that do not put any emphasis on racial diversity.

Effects on job seekers today

Many resume writing resources recommend removing resume content that might trigger biases – not just racial or gender-based bias but also prejudices related to age, disability status, political affiliation, or religion.

In the research presented above, some applicants found this practice to be essential to their job search success. However, other applicants may not feel comfortable doing so and may reject this practice as a matter of principle.

Key takeaways

  • Some studies on the effects of race- and gender-associated names show substantial effects on interview rates, while others report negligible effects.
  • Some candidates alter extraprofessional experiences so as not to hint at their background.
  • Pro-diversity company cultures do not eliminate the effects of bias, ostensibly because applicants are more comfortable sharing identifying information.
  • The studies employed somewhat different methods – including the specific racial biases under consideration (both considered Black and white applicants; only one considered Hispanic applicants and gender-specific names, and the other Asian applicants) and whether names only (as opposed to names and extraprofessional activities) were altered. This may have contributed to conflicting results.

Because study results have differed so widely – and due to the near-decade that has passed since the research was conducted – it is clear that additional research is needed in this field.