Should Black Techies Whitewash Their Resumes?

A number of black tech professionals say there’s a lingering fear that stereotypical notions of a “typical techie” hurt their job prospects. When a hiring manager thinks of a “typical” software architect or developer, for instance, does a black woman come to mind?

In theory, hiring managers and recruiters are supposed to undertake an impartial search for the best candidates, but concerns over unconscious bias—and whether those concerns are unwarranted—are something that black tech professionals have said they confront on a regular basis, and it’s impacting how they present themselves, at least on paper. For some, applying for a job necessitates removing anything from a resume that might indicate race, such as affiliations with black professional and civic organizations.

“There’s a prototype of the person that hiring managers have come to expect,” said Jane Stout, director of the Computing Research Association’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline. “The ironic part of whitewashing the resume is that there’s so much talk among hiring committees about the need to be more diverse, and blacks are saying they simply don’t have trust that hiring decisions will be nonbiased.” Black workers are sensitive to the fact that bias does still exist, she added, and that’s why resume whitewashing continues to happen.

Tweaking the CV

The idea of whitewashing a resume isn’t a new one, said Keith Townsend, SAP infrastructure architect for AbbVie, a biopharmaceutical company, and author of the blog Virtualized Geek. “There are people who certainly do it, but I choose to be upfront about my background. Whitewashing a resume really can’t help at the end of the day. You’ll eventually show up for an interview, and they can hire you, reject you, or lowball you there.”

Townsend knows he’s at a point in his career where his credentials help him to stand out: “My resume is strong enough that nothing else should matter.” But for less experienced hires, he added, there’s probably more of a concern.

Starting the Search

Sara, a pseudonym, is one of those less-experienced candidates who’s on the lookout for a junior IT or business analyst spot. She agreed to speak with Dice under the condition of anonymity for fear that her comments could impact her job search. Sara probably doesn’t have an option to whitewash the resume; her real name might lead a recruiter to figure out her race or ethnicity, anyway. And that has left her wondering about the possibility of recruiter bias: Data from the National Bureau of Economic Research seems to indicate that people with names that imply they’re likely black have a harder chance of getting a callback for a job than a Caucasian candidate of equal qualifications.

Considering the overwhelming demand for IT grads, Sara’s job search isn’t going as well as some say it should. She’ll have an MS in information systems from a well-known university in hand by June. “It’s been tough,” she admitted. “At some point, you’ll never know why you didn’t get a callback.”

Unconscious bias is more of a factor during the initial resume-review process, noted Janice Cuny, program director for computing education at the National Science Foundation. “It’s simply a matter of living in our society,” she said. “Stereotypes are a way of quickly categorizing the world. But those implicit biases are less likely to rule in a face-to-face meeting when you’ve had time to think than when you’re sorting through resumes in a pile.”

The Voice of Experience

The resume isn’t the only thing to think about, though. There’s the digital footprint, said Allen Westley, a computer systems security analyst for Northrop Grumman: “Tech savvy recruiters and hiring managers are most assuredly looking up candidates online before they ever make contact.” He contends that it’s pretty useless to try and whitewash a resume in today’s ultra-connected world; with enough searching, anyone can find at least some information on your race, ethnicity, or religious and political views.

Whitewashing the Web

Michael, a pseudonym, wonders if he’s made critical mistakes online, and worries that his job search is impacted by his blogging and strong advocacy for diversity in tech hiring. (For those reasons, he’s also worried about being named in this story.) Despite almost three decades of experience in software development, tech training, and consulting, and with a long resume in hand, he finds that callbacks for potential jobs have been fewer than expected: “There’s the fear that someone sees me as a troublemaker, which really isn’t the case.”

Michael only recently started to see more interest after deleting much of his blogging activity, and he’s unsure if that’s a coincidence: “I didn’t have militant comments out there. It was really just about equity and the digital divide. But when I took a lot of it down, the phone did start to blow up.”

Meanwhile, diversity remains an issue in tech. Blacks currently hold less than 8 percent of information technology jobs in the U.S, according to the National Black Information Technology Leadership Organization and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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15 Responses to “Should Black Techies Whitewash Their Resumes?”

  1. First, What is on the resume that allows me to tell your color? Maybe I am missing something when I screen resumes. Maybe you are putting personal stuff on a professional document. I don’t want to know what church you go to, or what political groups you belong to. I don’t want to know your sexual preferences. I don’t want to know you play guitar. That fact that you won a wet t-shirt contest or … That isn’t what this document is about.

    Second, do you want to work for a company that hires along racial lines? I am white and I don’t. I want the best technical skills for the money. Over the wall one way is a great SystemsOps guy who just happens to be black. Over the way a different way is a great DBA who happens to be black and just got his citizenship. My boss is white. I ate lunch yesterday with a great education and documentation specialist who happens to be a black female. I was part of hiring everyone except my boss. I didn’t know their color before I met them.

    Third, Michael’s blogging, STRONG advocacy for diversity in tech hiring; Michael probably does have an issue because of his blogging. I don’t want to hire someone who is a radical. If the organization isn’t already pushing the same direction as the radical, I don’t want them.

    • Marcus Griffin

      “Over the wall one way is a great SystemsOps guy who just happens to be black. Over the way a different way is a great DBA who happens to be black and just got his citizenship. My boss is white. I ate lunch yesterday with a great education and documentation specialist who happens to be a black female.”

      Aw the I know black people comment. The ever present comment of a racist. If there are two black people working at your company they are probably over qualified and should be the boss. Also if you are so liberal Mr Dunn what difference should it make if “Micheal” is STRONG advocate for minority diversity in hiring the only think you claim to be concerned about is can he do the job.

      This is the reality Mr Dunn white people are given more opportunities to succeed and fail. If black fails or get laid off his career may never recover, if white person fails, short of breaking the law “and in some cases that may not make a difference” it for gone conclusion they will recovered.
      Although this is not the greatest article in the world DICE gave have hearted attempt at address the Bias’s in the IT world.

      • You are showing that you didn’t read for content or you have a strong bias.

        It isn’t I KNOW black people, it is, I brought in the BEST talent for the money into the organization I could. The people I mentioned just happen to be black because that is the topic of the day. I also brought in several other people.
        There are several blacks working here, but I was only involved in bringing in three. I also got one removed because he was incompetent. There is also some Asians, Middle Easterns, Eastern Europeans, and a pile of people that I don’t really know where they came from or their heritage.

        I find it interesting that you think the people I mentioned should be my boss. As IT Sec, I am sometimes their boss via dotted line. It doesn’t make sense that they would be mine.

        As far as “Micheal” is STRONG advocate”, as stated before, I don’t hire RADICALS. I don’t care if you are strong advocate for X, Y, Z. If the company is not pushing for X, Y, or Z, I don’t want you. Radicals are a disruption to the company.

        As far as white having more advantage this is not true. Look at the stats. Be sure to look at the stats where they compare the financials before looking at the advantage. If you grew up poor, you don’t have the advantages of those that grew up middle class and of course the upper class has opportunities that the other groups don’t. I would also suggest you look at groups of immigrants who came with nothing and are moving up the financial ladder.

  2. I think the reference is for things in your resume that could give clues about your race. For instance, prodominently Black Universities, fraternities, and professional organizations.

    • You are showing that you didn’t read for content or you have a strong bias.

      It isn’t I KNOW black people, it is, I brought in the BEST talent for the money into the organization I could. The people I mentioned just happen to be black because that is the topic of the day. I also brought in several other people.
      There are several blacks working here, but I was only involved in bringing in three. I also got one removed because he was incompetent. There is also some Asians, Middle Easterns, Eastern Europeans, and a pile of people that I don’t really know where they came from or their heritage.

      I find it interesting that you think the people I mentioned should be my boss. As IT Sec, I am sometimes their boss via dotted line. It doesn’t make sense that they would be mine.

      As far as “Micheal” is STRONG advocate”, as stated before, I don’t hire RADICALS. I don’t care if you are strong advocate for X, Y, Z. If the company is not pushing for X, Y, or Z, I don’t want you. Radicals are a disruption to the company.

      As far as white having more advantage this is not true. Look at the stats. Be sure to look at the stats where they compare the financials before looking at the advantage. If you grew up poor, you don’t have the advantages of those that grew up middle class and of course the upper class has opportunities that the other groups don’t. I would also suggest you look at groups of immigrants who came with nothing and are moving up the financial ladder.

      • OK, I am fighting Dice’s system today. Here is what should have been posted.

        Don’t list fraternities on Resumes. I don’t list my fraternity on my resume. This is not your Facebook page. As a hiring manager, we don’t care about your frat. I would say that 80% of the people I talk to are anti-frat. Of the 20% who are not anti-frat, I don’t think many would know the black frat, vs. any other. The exception is if you can determine that the hiring manager belonged to the same Frat.

        Don’t list organizations that are specifically for any race, creed, color, or sexual preference. As a hiring manager, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW. Seriously, if you think that belonging to the young republicans or the young democrats buys you anything, I don’t want to hire you. See my comments on radicals. If you belong to IEEE, ISACA, ISC2, AITP…list those. I want to hire you on your skills not your political affiliation.

        As far as your university, yes, this does make a difference, for interns and the first 3 years of a career, but not in the way you think. I do give a preference to my university. I chose them for a reason. Then I give a preference to the large state schools. Then there is everyone else. With the exception of Howard, I wouldn’t know it was a Black University. It would just be a school I don’t know. Now after you have been in the field 3 years, the differential is the experience, interview, and having the degree. Where is it from, isn’t important.

  3. Pat Smith

    Education can be a signal of an applicant’s ethnic background. If the applicant’s degree is from an HBCU it is highly likely that the applicant is Black. For less experienced applicants who may be more likely to list college activities and leadership roles as “filler” on a resume, membership in a fraternity or sorority can give clues about race or religion.

    There are times when a company will hire ‘along racial lines’ because it is assumed that the applicant of the different race might not blend in with the existing team. Sadly, that might be due to the team’s tendency to discuss current events or politics with a slant that would not be acceptable in “mixed” company.

  4. The only thing I can think of is if you have a distinct name that is associated with heritage.The resumes I’ve seen are focused on skills and accomplishments, making it impossible to determine heritage. Also, I had a ton of trouble finding a job. My story sounds very similar to those shared. I think the real problem here is the market, not discrimination.

  5. Steve

    Part of the problem currently is that resumes are currently scanned for keywords, and the keywords compared in a database against job requirements. I get callbacks based on what seems to me to be inappropriate matches, and never for anything I am looking for or am qualified for. From either the name of the recruiter contacting me, or possibly the sound of their voice (thick accents), I have had several recruiters contact me who I suspect were from India, and I have to say that it doesn’t inspire confidence. Perhaps that makes me a racist in somebody’s eyes, especially since I’m white. I sure wish I could find some of these ‘white advantages’ I’ve been told I have all my life, maybe then I’d get my foot in the door somewhere.

  6. Jonathan A.

    I am a black guy, 34 years of age, that decided to go back for a B.S. in Information systems at the age of 30 after being a business professional at a Fortune 500 public company (which I landed without a degree). I don’t believe that there is a cut and dry answer here. Depending on the hiring manager, race may or may not matter. You cannot generalize this idea across the board either way. And you have to understand that you cannot control the situation if your resume runs across someone that may discriminate. What you can control is your own approach to your job search and your own attitude. Always focus on the positive – you don’t want to work for a manager that would discriminate anyway. So if they do have hesitation interviewing you due to race, they have done you a favor. Time to move on. I have so many professional friends that are genuine people, and a lot of them are white and hire for skills and personality. So keep searching because there are so many great hiring managers out there. The question is, are you properly equipped to find them? I have always been successful and I believe it is due to my ability to do three things: 1) Constantly reinvent myself and adjust to constant change, 2) Focus on positive aspects of life, carry a very enjoyable and positive attitude everywhere I go, and never get discouraged, and 3) Maintain an insatiable appetite to learn. I graduated in May 2014. I landed a job in June 2014 I had no IT exp, no internship, just a degree, determination, and a great attitude. I applied for 57 entry-mid level IT positions in about 3 months. I was rigorous in my search, and my understanding of percentages lead me to believe that if I apply myself long enough, I will land something. After 9 months at that job as a help desk/Windows admin I began a new job search. I consulted with the retired CIO of a local private university who I met while taking a walk in my neighborhood (that’s where the friendly, positive attitude came in – it’s not a front, it’s my lifestyle!). He helped me get my resume, interview, and entire job search approach in amazing shape. Note that you must tailor each application to that individual job! A “one size fits all” resume has no place in today’s competitive job market! Match the job description’s keywords! The knowledge my (now) friend gave me was on par with the advice several Dice authors have given for resume writing. Read up! Back to being rigorous… I lived my job search. I interviewed 6 times at 5 companies in 8 weeks. I received an offer! – time to celebrate? No. Time to prepare. Time to start learning ahead of my first day there. It’s takes time and mental discipline. It takes patience. It takes an open mind. Finding success takes being able to unsubscribe to the pity party. Remember, even if odds are against you, and they may or may not be, you still have a percentage of odds that are for you. And you better work the hell out of them. Best of luck to all.

  7. I have two questions about your post. 1. How did you come to the conclusion that a person who is a “strong advocate for diversity” is a radical and a trouble maker? Fair and inclusive companies not only strive for diversity they make it part of their mission statements. When did words like diversity become a bad thing in the workforce?. Dont you feel strongly about anything that could unfairly have an impact on your career? As a country we’re supposed to get better at accepting differences and the value those differences bring to a team.
    2. When you stated you hired the “best for the money”, did you consider that they may have accepted your offer because as black techies its more difficult to get the same pay as their non minority counterparts?
    Lastly names and volunteer activities can give some indication of race.Also in an effort to share their community involvement which many companies applaud and encourage these candidates could be subject to bias due to a hiring managers assumption of radicalism due to their own personal prejudgement.

  8. Jim O.

    Here’s a thought-provoking statement: You can whitewash your resume as much as you please, however, you cannot whitewash your profile and the photo you place on social networks.

    I am an African American male and I am currently employed. However, I have submitted a resume for a number of positions during the last couple of years that fit my work background, experiences, and education very well, and, I was not selected to interview. Numerous employers did look at my LinkedIn profile after receiving my resume and never contacted me afterward.

    Obviously, someone reviewed my resume and felt that my credentials were strong enough to have them go further and take a look at my LinkedIn profile. And then the interest seemed to stop. There is nothing on my profile that indicates my fraternity, my religion, place of origin, or political affiliation. I also attended university a normal percentage of people of color. However, my photo is surely on the profile.

    My conclusion is that Social networks are surely a great tool for connecting people…and maybe social networks are great tools for other purposes as well, some being not so positive.