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Racial Bias in Hiring Practices Leave Women of Color Behind

By: Kayla Patrick, FellowPosted on December 8, 2017 Issues: Racial & Ethnic Justice Workplace

Jobs data for November released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS) show that women of color continue to experience higher rates of unemployment rates than white men. Specifically, the unemployment rate for Black women (5.9%) was 84 percent higher than white men’s (3.2%). And the unemployment rate for Latinas (4.9%) was 53 percent higher than white men’s last month.

Not only do women of color experience higher unemployment rates, but they also are unemployed for longer lengths of time. Most people who were seeking work last month were looking for jobs for 5 weeks or less. But this number is even higher for women of color. The typical unemployed Black woman was unemployed for 14 weeks while the typical unemployed white woman was looking for work for only 8.6. Latina and Asian women were typically unemployed for over nine weeks in November.

All evidence shows that this isn’t due to a lack of trying. Despite common myths, Black women consistently have higher labor force participation rates than white women. In fact, in November white women’s participation rate was 57.5 percent while Latina’s women’s participation rate was 58.9 percent, and Black women’s participation rate was 62.4 percent.

If the unemployment rates alone don’t make the race discrimination crystal clear, recent studies show that potential employers discriminate against candidates before they even walk through the door. In one study, researchers sent out resumes for Black and Asian candidates that made reference to their race/ethnicity and others that were so-called “whitened.” The whitened resumes fared better despite the resumes showing identical qualifications.

You won’t be surprised to learn that this isn’t a new phenomenon. Hiring discrimination hasn’t dropped for Black applicants in 25 years and Latino applicants have only seen a small decrease in discrimination in that time period. Black children are often told that they have to try twice as hard and be twice as good while studies have found that getting an education does little to help decrease hiring discrimination.

By passing over people of color, companies are losing profits –one study found that companies with diverse workforces have higher returns. This same study found that companies that are gender diverse are 15 percent more likely to outperform others and ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform other companies. Racial and gender diversity is just as, if not more, important in the nonprofit sector. Racially diverse board members and employees bring unique perspectives to their work and increase organizational creativity and capacity to connect to the communities they serve.

The evidence is too clear and the stakes are too high to be ignored.  Women of color are being passed over for too many jobs just for being of color – and are remaining unemployed longer than their white counterparts. Employers need to confront racial bias in hiring practices not just to hire qualified women of color but to boost their own productivity. Women of color have been left behind for too long. When companies and organizations eliminate racism and sexism from their hiring practices, we’ll all be better off.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.