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.