Race Bias in Hiring: When Both Applicant and Employer Lose (Podcast)

Race Bias in Hiring: When Both Applicant and Employer Lose (Podcast)


>>NARRATOR
It’s the early 2000s. Devah Pager, the late Harvard sociologist, is a graduate student
at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s there to study racial inequality – particularly
in the job market, and she also volunteers at a center for jobless men. It’s at the
center that she keeps meeting job-seekers who share a similar story:>>RONALD LEWIS
I’m a father. I’m a hard worker. I served my– I did my probation, no violations. Model citizen. They called me into the office and said, um, “Your record came back; we gotta let you go.”>>NARRATOR
This is Ronald Lewis, speaking to PBS NewsHour about his struggle to find and hold a job
with a criminal record. Devah spoke with a lot of Ronalds – men who were capable and
articulate, and yet seemingly unemployable for jobs that should have been well within
their reach. It made her wonder:>>DEVAH PAGER
Is this something we should be investigating more systematically? But I also wanted to
look at how race interacted with this variable.>>NARRATOR
What Devah found transformed how we think about race bias in hiring. In this episode,
we explore this bias, and the data showing how it can hurt both applicants and employers.
Welcome to Outsmarting Human Minds. Devah Pager wanted to explore just how much
race and criminal record were affecting employment prospects. So she conducted an experiment.>>DEVAH PAGER
Specifically, a field experiment.>>NARRATOR
This means that she went out of the lab and into the world to answer her question – in
this case, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.>>DEVAH PAGER
I hired young men to pose as job applicants for real entry-level positions, positions
that required no more than a high school degree.>>NARRATOR
These were jobs like cook, cashier, delivery driver, and warehouse worker.>>DEVAH PAGER– And I assigned them fictitious
resumes that reflected identical levels of schooling and work experience, and they learned
how to respond to employment interviews in very standardized ways.>>NARRATOR
Behavior, qualifications, everything was the same… except the two things Devah was investigating:
race…>>DEVAH PAGER
…I had one pair of white testers and one pair of black testers… NARRATOR
…and whether or not they had a felony drug conviction. The data showed that applicants were half
as likely to get the job (or even a callback) when they had a criminal record. This is disturbing,
but perhaps not surprising. The real shock came when she looked at race:>>DEVAH PAGER
Black applicants with a clean record fared no better than white applicants who had just
been released from prison.>>NARRATOR
Put another way: to employers, being black was viewed as equivalent to having a felony
conviction. When I share this finding with people, the
question I hear most is “Oh my god, this can’t be true everywhere, can it?” After
all, Milwaukee was one of the most segregated cities in America at the time. But Devah conducted
the study again, this time in New York City…>>DEVAH PAGER
…New York has got a huge amount of racial diversity…>>NARRATOR
…and found the same results. This bias was robust – and in their 2004
study, economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan showed that it was happening
even before employers set eyes on the candidate. In fact, all they had to see was the name on the resume.>>YAFATE BEYENE
Is there a difference between black and white names and if so, what’s the difference?>>NARRATOR
The Yafa Show posed this question to various people, and it’s clear from their responses
that we have intuitions about what names “sound” White…>>VARIOUS VOICES
Anna… Stephanie… Brad, Gregory… Dean, Dylan…>>NARRATOR
or Black…>>VARIOUS VOICES
Jamal… Laquisha… Tamika… I’m kinda old, so I go back to thinking stuff like
Jackson or Tyrone or Denzel.>>NARRATOR
Marianne and Sendhil randomly assigned either a White- or Black-sounding name to almost
5000 resumes that were matched for quality, and then sent them to employers all over Boston
and Chicago. They wanted to know just how much inferences about race were influencing
hiring decisions. All else being equal, the Emilys and Gregs received 50% more callbacks
than the Lakishas and Tyrones. Hearing about these kinds of hiring errors
may hurt your sense of reason – but the data suggest that practicing them can also
hurt your business.>>DEVAH PAGER
So, there’s a classic theory in economics that suggests that those that have a taste
for discrimination have to pay a price for indulging that taste.>>NARRATOR
Devah is referencing the work of economist Gary Becker. His model suggests that if a
company’s prejudice keeps them from hiring good candidates because of race (no matter
how talented the person), that company will lose out in the market. It won’t have the
best people and so it should be more likely to fail. This theory is well-accepted… but
it’s been hard to test. Until the 2008 recession.>>NEWS ANCHOR 1
The DOW tumbled more than 500 points, after two pillars of the street tumbled over the
weekend…>>NEWS ANCHOR 2
The US economy continues to bleed jobs…>>NEWS ANCHOR 3
More than 3 and a half million jobs have been lost since the recession…>>NARRATOR
A record number of businesses closed during the financial crisis.>>NEWS ANCHOR 4
…the greatest decline since 1945…>>NARRATOR
…and that made Devah think: Does Becker’s theory hold? Did the companies that showed
discriminatory hiring suffer more during the economic downturn? In 2004, she had sent job candidates to 170
New York employers. Now, she asked: which of them were still around in 2010, 2 years
after the recession? She cross-referenced national databases across the two years and
came to a striking conclusion:>>DEVAH PAGER
Those that we’d observed discriminating in 2004 were in fact much more likely to go out of
business six years later than those that hadn’t discriminated.>>NARRATOR
By 2010, 36% of discriminatory businesses had failed – that’s more than twice the
percentage of businesses that had shown no racial bias. To be clear, this is a single study, and it
doesn’t necessarily mean that discriminatory practices cause businesses to fail. Devah’s
own theory?>>DEVAH PAGER
Employers that rely on their gut instincts rather than more systematic kinds of evidence
may be led astray both in their hiring decisions as well as in other decisions about firm management.>>NARRATOR
So rather than one causing the other, biased hiring and business failure could both be
consequences of an overreliance on short-cuts during decision-making.  So: how can we make
sure the right information is factoring into our decisions? Some minority job-seekers “whiten” their
resumes:>>QUIRTINA CRITTENDEN
My name is Quirtina … I shortened my name to just Tina. NARRATOR
…or shift the focus onto their accomplishments:>>ZELDA HARRIS
When I’m applying to places, I really try to get “Princeton” somewhere in the first
three words of that subject line.>>NARRATOR
But if we really care about getting the best talent, we need to take the responsibility
off the shoulders of applicants, and into our own hands as organizations. First, stop relying on intuition that isn’t
backed by evidence. If you remember our video about faces and first impressions, you know
how completely “gut instinct” can fail us. Race, name, hobbies, social class… the
research shows that these details affect our decisions, whether we know it or not. So if
the information is unnecessary, find ways to filter it out before the resume hits your
desk. And once you’re ready to interview? Ask
each candidate the same questions, in the same order, and evaluate them the same way.
This is called the “Structured Interview,” and it helps you compare only the relevant
skills and experience across all your applicants. So try it. Because finding a job is hard…
and finding the right candidate is hard too – but we can all benefit by ignoring the
irrelevant details, and focusing on the evidence. This episode is in memory of Dr. Devah Pager,
Professor of Sociology and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Outsmarting Human Minds is a project founded
by Mahzarin Banaji, devoted to improving decision-making using insights from psychological science.
This episode was written by Olivia Kang, Kirsten Morehouse, Evan Younger, and Mahzarin Banaji,
and featured Professor Devah Pager and voices from NPR’s Hidden Brain and “The Yafa
Show”. Support for Outsmarting Human Minds comes from Harvard University, PwC, and Johnson
& Johnson. Sound editing and mixing was done by Evan Younger. Music was composed by Miracles
of Modern Science. For references and related materials, visit outsmartinghumanminds.org.

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