Should the Keishas of the World Put Karen On Their Resume?

When white America sneezes, black America usually gets the flu. In a still sputtering economy, employment discrimination seems to be having a more blatant impact on African Americans, especially black women, who are trying to stay afloat in a cutthroat job market. This is why the unemployment rate for Americans overall is around eight percent, while the unemployment rate for African Americans is nearly double that rate and rising. 

Yolanda Spivey, a professional in the insurance industry, conducted an eye-opening experiment on Monster.com, where she set up a fake account for a white job seeker with a non-ethnic name who possessed the same qualifications and experience she had. Here’s what happened.

Before I begin, let me quote the late, great Booker T. Washington who said,

Of all forms of slavery there is none that is so harmful and degrading as that form of slavery which tempts one human being to hate another by reason of his race or color.

For two years, I have been unemployed. In the beginning, I applied to more than three hundred open positions in the insurance industry—an industry that I’ve worked in for the previous ten years.  Not one employer responded to my resume. So I enrolled back into college to finish my degree. After completing school this past May, I resumed my search for employment and was quite shocked that I wasn’t getting a single response. I usually applied for positions advertised on the popular website Monster.com. I’d used it in the past and have been successful in obtaining jobs through it.

Two years ago, I noticed that Monster.com had added a “diversity questionnaire” to the site. This gives an applicant the opportunity to identify  their sex and race to potential employers. Monster.com guarantees that this option will not jeopardize your chances of gaining employment. You must answer this questionnaire in order to apply to a posted position—it cannot be skipped. At times, I would mark off “black female,” but then I thought, this might be hurting my chances of getting employed, so I started selecting the “decline to identify” option instead. That still had no effect on my getting a job. So I decided to try an experiment: I created a fake job applicant and called her Bianca White.

First, I created an email account and resume for Bianca. I kept the same employment history and educational background on her resume that was listed on my own. But I removed my home phone number, kept my listed cell phone number, and changed my cell phone greeting to say, “You have reached Bianca White.  Please leave a message.” Then I created an online Monster.com account, listed Bianca as a white woman on the diversity questionnaire and activated the account.

That very same day, I received a phone call.  The next day, my phone line and Bianca’s email address were packed with potential employers calling for an interview. I was stunned. More shocking was that some employers, mostly Caucasian-sounding women, were calling Bianca more than once, desperate to get an interview with her. All along, my real Monster.com account was open and active; but, despite having the same background as Bianca, I received no phone calls. Two jobs actually did email me and Bianca at the same time. But they were commission-only sales positions. Potential positions offering a competitive salary and benefits all went to Bianca.

At the end of my little experiment, which lasted a week, Bianca White had received nine phone calls—I received none. Bianca had received a total of seven emails, while I’d only received two, which again happen to have been the same emails Bianca received. Let me also point out that one of the emails that contacted Bianca for a job wanted her to relocate to a different state, all expenses paid, should she be willing to make that commitment. In the end, a total of twenty-four employers looked at Bianca’s resume while only ten looked at mine.

Is this a conspiracy or what? I’m almost convinced that white Americans aren’t suffering from the same disparaging unemployment rates as their black counterparts because all the jobs are being saved for other white people.

My little experiment certainly proved a few things. First, I learned that answering the diversity questionnaire on job sites such as Monster.com’s may work against minorities, as employers are judging whom they hire based on it.  Second, I learned to suspect that resumes with ethnic names may go into the wastebasket and never see the light of day.

Other than being chronically out of work, I embarked on this little experiment because of a young woman I met while I was in school. She was a 22-year-old Caucasian woman who, like myself, was about to graduate. She was so excited about a job she had just gotten with a well-known sporting franchise. She had no prior work experience and had applied for a clerical position, but was offered a higher post as an executive manager making close to six figures. I was curious to know how she’d been able to land such a position. She was candid in telling me that the human resource person who’d hired her just “liked” her and told her that she deserved to be in a higher position. The HR person was also Caucasian.

Another reason that pushed me to do this experiment is because of the media. There’s not a day that goes by in which I fail to see a news program about how tough the job market is. Recently, while I was watching a report on underemployed and underpaid Americans, I saw a middle-aged white man complaining that he was making only $80,000 which was $30,000 less than what he was making before. I thought to myself that in this economy, many would feel they’d hit the jackpot if they made 80K a year.

In conclusion, I would like to once again quote the late, great Booker T. Washington when he said, “You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.”

The more America continues to hold back great candidates based on race, the more our economy is going to stay in a rut.  We all need each other to prosper, flourish, and to move ahead.

This piece was originally printed in Clutch Magazine.

Comments

  1. craftykaren says:

    Dear Yolanda
    I am so sorry to hear about your job hunt experience. I went through the same thing 30 years ago after graduating from law school. Oh, wait, NOT the same thing because I was a middle class white woman trying to get people to see me that way so I wouldn’t suffer discriminatory hiring practices. My first and last names were “unusual” and didn’t read as white and Jewish, (more like “ethnic” or “foreign”). I wanted people to know I was a white female, which would have coded me as a good candidate, at least for the white and/or Jewish law firms who would be open to a female applicant. So, after 8 months of futile job hunting, as an experiment, I anglicized my first and last names on my otherwise unchanged resume and cover letter. Ironically, Karen was the first name I chose, so when I saw the title of this article, it really grabbed my attention. Within 6 weeks I had 3 interviews and a job. I had to fess up to my new employer about my alias and needed to change my name legally to work under the “simpler” new name. While my old name was hard to spell since it wasn’t phonetic, it was my name and a part of me and I hated giving it up just to get a job. A name however is easier to change than most of the other unchangeable characteristics that others use as a basis to discriminate in the job market – and all other aspects of society. I can’t imagine how it feels to be asked to give up or hide an immutable part of oneself to appear palatable to prospective employers. Again, I am sorry to hear your story, which gives voice to the experiences of countless others.

  2. I hope you find a good job.

  3. I’m shocked that you weren’t being contacted with your own name!! Also, why would monster ask race questions? And why force an applicant to answer them before being allowed to post their resume?

  4. Yolanda Spivey says:

    Thank you for the support ladies. I’m still unemployed and I recently gave a interview on this. You can check it out at http://www.myfoxhouston.com/story/20189969/2012/11/26/emplyment-experiment-does-race-matter

    Again thanks for the well wishes!!!

  5. Ugh. It never occurred to me that my Hispanic/foreign-y name might be what’s not getting me interviews. UGH. Maybe I can try translating into English.

Speak Your Mind

*