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To close corporate America’s inequality gap, we need to end discrimination against Black job applicants

By Martine Cadet

Two viruses are plaguing our country: COVID-19 and persistent and institutionalized racism. For Black Americans who are hit the hardest by both, they are also dealing with an unemployment rate at a level we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.

While our country reckons with yet another case of police brutality against a Black person, some allies have stepped up. Most significantly last week was Alexis Ohanian, Redditt’s cofounder, who resigned from the board while calling for that seat to be given to a Black candidate.

As one of the few Black women to be in leadership in the tech industry, I was stunned and encouraged. Companies and executives throw around the word “diversity” far too often without developing efforts which bear fruit in meaningful ways.

Now, all corporations and individuals in positions of power must practice what their recent social media posts promise—that they will help dismantle systemic racism.

One of the most impactful ways to do that is to stop discriminating against Black job applicants.

The reality is that when most corporations are faced with a large volume of résumés for a job opening, they try to reduce the pile to a manageable number. This is typically done—either deliberately or through haste—by using a narrow set of criteria like the person’s name, which college they attended, and where they live. Black and brown applicants are more likely to be disadvantaged due to not always living in the “right” neighborhoods or not having attended the “preferred” colleges, even though none of this relates to whether someone is qualified for a position.

The result is applicants with white-sounding names get 50% more callbacks than applicants with Black-sounding names, even with identical professional experiences.

I’ve witnessed the power and bias of name misimpressions firsthand. Before video calls, most corporate communications were over the phone. Having been raised in a predominantly white community and having been born into a Haitian household, my speech and name were not typical of some Black Americans. So when I met some of my colleagues for the first time, I was greeted with a surprised “you’re Martine?” Their shock relayed a sense that, as a Black woman, I couldn’t be the consummate professional they thought they had been working with.

Recognizing and overcoming this discrimination within an organization uplifts everyone involved. Several different studies show diverse and inclusive cultures are more innovative and profitable than companies with homogeneous employee bases.

For instance, diverse corporate teams could fix touchless devices to better recognize black and brown skin, or develop self-driving cars to more reliably recognize Black pedestrians.

To be sure, anything that is worthwhile is not always easy. Businesses have to be willing to reimagine where they source talent, along with how their recruiters evaluate candidates and how management promotes, nurtures, and develops employees. Corporations must be introspective about the ways their internal environments impact people of color. One bias training or a couple of token hires won’t cut it.

But if we know what’s good for Black talent is also good for business, what is holding us back? It’s an unconscious (or conscious) lack of trust or belief that black and brown talent can do the job.

That’s why, beyond pushing companies to be more diverse, we need our government leaders to change the underlying systems that enable bias to exist. California and New York City legislators are on the right track by pushing for the passage of bills that regulate new automated hiring tools in order to guide companies toward use of transparent technologies for candidate assessments, rather than relying on the decades-old biased system of résumé review. Both bills are sponsored by women of color.

The stakes are enormous for Black talent and for companies. Everyone has a role to play. We cannot let the 2008 market crash repeat itself when new jobs were given far more to one race over the other.

If we truly care about racial and economic equality in this country, the least we can do is start treating Black job candidates fairly.

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Martine Cadet is vice president of social impact programming at pymetrics, a talent acquisition and management platform. Prior to pymetrics, she was VP at Infor where she led workforce development and enablement initiatives.