Racial bias in the workplace is not only unethical, it is also illegal.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits racial discrimination at work. Make your organization a welcoming place for every employee by avoiding racial discrimination in hiring and company culture.
Want to know how? Keep reading to learn more about what racial discrimination is and how to avoid it during your workplace’s next job competition. With just a few small changes, racial bias will be a thing of the past in your organization.
What is Racial Discrimination?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines racial discrimination as “treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features).”
In other words, racial discrimination is behavior based on racial prejudice (attitudes), racial stereotypes (beliefs), and/or racism (ideologies). It is any unequal treatment of a person based on their race or ethnicity.
Even if you are not actively discriminating against people of color in your staffing practices, your organization may still be contributing to the problem.
Systemic racism refers to the inherent inequality that is built into business practices. Simply sticking to the established way of doing things fails to reverse a long tradition of disadvantaging minorities.
Complaints of racial discrimination must be addressed quickly and investigated thoroughly. Download the free cheat sheet Best Practices for Handling Complaints.
Acting indifferent to racial discrimination in the workplace and refusing to change business systems to reflect today’s diverse pool of workers is just as bad as outright, aggressive racism. Avoiding racial discrimination in hiring requires active change to old procedures.
Racial discrimination can manifest in a number of ways in the workplace.
Employees of color may be assigned less desirable projects or tasks or be denied the training or mentorship that could help them move up in the organization. Other examples include lower salaries, denial of job perks, and fewer promotions.
In addition to these outright racist practices, minority employees also often face microaggressions.
Defined as a brief comment or behavior that communicates negative attitudes towards a person’s race, a microaggression can be intentional or unintentional. They may take the form of avoiding someone of another race, excluding them from conversations or events, and asking stereotypical questions like “Where are you from?”.
As mentioned above, rude comments and stifling success are not the only ways employers and coworkers can discriminate against employees of color.
Systemic racism in the workplace has been a major problem for decades. Many policies and procedures were written in a time when white men ruled the workplace. Be sure to update your policies with diversity in mind to correct any inadvertent racial discrimination at your organization.
Use our employee handbook template to emphasize the importance of diversity in your company culture.
Racial Discrimination in Hiring
There are two main ways that racial discrimination in hiring can occur.
First, staffers may screen resumes based on racial prejudices. Putting a resume in the “no” pile because the applicant has an ethnic name, attended a historically black university, or any other reason that stereotypes the applicant is considered racial discrimination.
In-person interviews of applicants can also be racially discriminatory. After interviews, the new employee should be chosen based on their qualifications, not their skin color, way of speaking, or family situation.
The wording in job postings can even be racially discriminatory. Race and national origin should never be mentioned in a job advertisement. Even indirect wording can discourage diverse applicants from applying.
For instance, requiring “strong English-language skills” indicates that non-native English speakers are not welcome to apply. Include an Equal Opportunity Employer statement at the beginning of the ad to make it clear that your organization welcomes everyone.
One study done at Texas A&M University showed that minority applicants with stronger perceived racial identities were less likely to be hired than white applicants and even other people of color with weaker identities. Applicants with resume items that showed they strongly identified with their race (like belonging to a Latino Student Union in college) reduced their chances of a callback.
Another study by Northwestern University found that hiring discrimination against black people has showed no change since 1989 and a very modest decrease for Latino applicants. These findings are proof that every organization needs to take every step they can towards avoiding racial discrimination in hiring and culture at their workplace.
Legal Ramifications of Racial Discrimination
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits racial discrimination in the workplace. From hiring to compensation to benefits, discriminating against minority employees for their race is against the law in the workplace.
This law also forbids employers to retaliate against employees who file discrimination charges under the Act. For this reason, keeping racial discrimination out of your workplace practices and procedures can save everyone a lot of stress.
Striving towards equality and diversity in your place of work is much easier than addressing a discrimination complaint. Below, you will find some tips on avoiding racial discrimination in hiring. The result? A happier, safer, more inclusive workplace with no hefty legal fees or hits to your organization’s reputation.
Avoiding racial discrimination in hiring starts with your company culture. Weaving diversity and inclusion into your organization’s approaches to leadership and management makes it easy for employees to fight racial discrimination in the workplace without even realizing it.
Implement Bias Interrupters
A bias interrupter is a small, simple change to existing business systems that reduces discrimination.
Implementing bias interrupters in your workplace ensures that traditionally disadvantaged groups won’t suffer from systemic racism in your organization. Some examples of bias interrupters include:
- Rewriting job descriptions to remove discouraging language
- Using software to screen applicants instead of humans
- Reducing referral hiring
- Asking every applicant the same, pre-set interview questions, making sure they are free of nuances that only certain groups would understand
- Including skills tests in the competition
- Asking applicants to omit their names and the names of their schools from their resumes
- Recruiting applicants using diversity-specific job boards, job fairs, and conferences
- Not asking for greater qualifications (like education or experience) than the position requires
- Taking careful notes during interview so you have information, rather than an impression, to use when deciding who to hire
Making these easy changes to your workplace’s staffing practices can help you hire a more diverse, more productive, and happier team.
Offer Racial Bias Training
Another way to address racial discrimination in hiring practices at your organization is to offer racial bias training. Eliminating racial bias in the workplace is essential for HR professionals, but you can offer the training to everyone in your organization who wants to participate.
The Society for Human Resource Management suggests these five tips for making an effective racial bias training program:
- Choose a facilitator (either internal or external) who has experience dealing with tough topics to lead the session.
- Make the training voluntary. People often bring bad attitudes to activities that are forced upon them.
- Lay out ground rules of the session before you start to make everyone feel comfortable and safe.
- Incorporate engaging, interactive elements. A long lecture won’t solve anything.
- Give attendees a list of specific, actionable steps they can take towards eliminating their racial bias whether it is conscious or unconscious.
- Avoid focusing too much on one racial group, as it excludes others.
Starbucks recently faced a brand-damaging episode in which an employee called the police on two African-American men who were just waiting at the store for a friend. Following the incident, the company required all employees to attend a racial bias workshop.
After watching a short video of people of color recounting their daily experiences of racism, participants discussed their own personal accounts and perceptions of race relations. Starting a discussion in a training session encourages employees to address these hard topics day to day.
Racial bias training helps employees, whether they are on the HR staff or working alongside people of color, to overcome their racist attitudes. This type of program is a great first step towards avoiding racial discrimination in hiring at your organization.
Develop an Anti-Racism Program
In addition to offering racial bias training in your workplace, develop a strong anti-racism program. Make strides towards promoting diversity and equity in the workplace by taking steps like these:
- Reviewing policies, procedures, and practices for systemic racism and amending them
- Creating and enforcing anti-racism, anti-discrimination, and anti-harassment policies
- Accounting for historical disadvantage when considering applicants of color for positions
- Collecting data and analyzing metrics of your hiring practices so you can recognize racial discrimination and work towards eliminating it
Your anti-racism program can be carried out by a voluntary committee or your entire HR team. A solid organizational foundation of inclusivity makes avoiding racial discrimination in hiring effortless.
Avoiding racial discrimination in hiring processes at your workplace is the first step towards diversity. Next, focus on cultivating an environment that is friendly towards everyone.
Simply hiring racially diverse candidates is not enough. If racism prevails in your workplace it will not only be uncomfortable for your new hire, but also have some practical implications for them.
For example, racial prejudice can lead to lower salaries, fewer promotions, and lower performance evaluations for people of color. They may also have their success attributed to other (white) team members, according to one study.
Help employees of color feel secure and satisfied with their jobs by creating safe spaces for them where they can discuss their concerns. Knowing that they have a confidential avenue through which to bring up these tough conversations will make your employees feel more at ease and welcome.
Make sure to also incorporate bias interrupters into your day-to-day workplace operations. Ensure no one uses racial bias when making decisions by determining objective criteria on how to deal with everyday situations.
Using an “if-then” format gives employees specific instructions, hopefully eliminating racial profiling and other forms of judgmental behavior. Provide example situations with set directions on how to handle them, like “IF a customer is loitering in your store, THEN you should ask if you can help them with anything.” This approach could have prevented the overreaction by the Starbucks employee mentioned above.
Looking To The Future
While we as a society have taken steps towards ending racism in the workplace, there is still a lot of work to be done. You can do your part by avoiding racial discrimination in hiring and in your workplace’s everyday operations. Using fair staffing practices and eradicating racist attitudes will make your organization both more diverse and a more enjoyable place to work for every employee.