Black Job-Seekers Hide Race For Corporate America
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly unemployment figures. December's jobless rate was the same as November's: 10 percent. But among African-Americans, unemployment increased by six-tenths of a percent to 16.2 percent.
Coming up, a report on the unemployment problems black teenagers face, but first, many college-educated black professionals have been struggling to find jobs in recent months, partly because of the economy and partly because of corporate America's spotty relationship with race.
Last month, The New York Times ran an article on African-Americans who've opted to, quote, "whiten," unquote, their resumes to get a foot in the corporate door, because any indication of their race could be a roadblock to an interview.
Joining us is Michelle T. Johnson who writes a column about diversity for the Kansas City Star. She's at member station KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri. Welcome to the program.
Ms. MICHELLE T. JOHNSON (Columnist, Kansas City Star): Hello, I'm glad to be here.
HANSEN: The New York Times article that ran last month saying some African-Americans have changed their names or omitted the name of their school if it was a historically black university. Is the concept of de-blacking a resume news to many African-Americans?
Ms. JOHNSON: No, not at all. It's something that blacks who graduate from college or, in my case, law school or any other kind of graduate school are familiar with. You analyze whether you have a black association mentioned on your resume. You have people look at your resume to do the check of, hmm, can someone tell that I'm black from this? You question whether the reason you haven't been getting any callbacks is because of what you list, because of your name or your organizations.
HANSEN: So, considering the corporate culture in America, is this a necessary move?
Ms. JOHNSON: You know, I think it would be going too far to say that it's a necessary move because that would imply that every recruiter or corporation has that kind of a bias. But it is something that one has to think of, especially when they're entering the job market, because anything that makes you stand out probably, in a way that even distracts a little bit from your qualifications can just be a problem.
There have been studies that have basically taken the same resume and they put a, quote, "black" name on it versus a name that isn't easily identified as black. And the person with the white or the nondescript name is twice as likely to be called for an interview.
HANSEN: Well, say there is someone who manages to enter the workforce and lands a job. Do the issues surrounding race go away?
Ms. JOHNSON: No, they never go away. I think if you're fortunate enough to work at a place where you get past that in terms of hiring and you do a great job and you develop wonderful relationships with people, then it may not be the dominant influence on how you progress, but it's always an influence.
I was an employment attorney for eight years, so as part of a litigation case, I would see lots of personnel files and it never ceased to amaze me how when a manager was talking about a African-American employee, their personality was almost always mentioned as part of their evaluation in a way that it wasn't mentioned with people who weren't black.
You know, that Mary, she sure is a joy to work with. Or the negative might happen. A black male may find himself having comments in his evaluation about how he's intimidating or difficult when comments about the personality or the attitude of coworkers who weren't black weren't mentioned in their evaluations.
HANSEN: What advice would you give to jobseekers?
Ms. JOHNSON: Well, no one likes to feel as if they have to turn into someone else to obtain a job. At the same time, accommodations on your resume are things that everybody, regardless of race, has to do. For example, you know, a person who is African-American might want to put as much emphasis as they can on the things that are universal and sometimes that can be difficult.
For example, if your only experience in leadership is in black organizations, then you're going to trick bag because if you take off those items, yeah, you've taken off any indicators that you're black, but you've also taken off the best stuff you have on your resume about your leadership potential.
HANSEN: Okay. So, hearing this, people who are in a position to hire, whom may be hearing this, what would you tell them to keep in mind?
Ms. JOHNSON: I would hope that employers, managers, HR professionals, recruiters would look at each resume at the value the person has to offer. What skills they have, what credentials they have. Did they force themselves, so to speak, to keep their eye on the ball? Which is - would this person be someone who would fit in our organization based on what they've done so far in their lives?
HANSEN: Michelle T. Johnson writes a column about diversity for the Kansas City Star. She joined us from member station KCUR. Thank you so much for being with us.
Ms. JOHNSON: You're welcome. It's been my pleasure.
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